By Peter Koutroumpis
RALEIGH, N.C. – A highly positive vibe hovered throughout PNC Arena heading into Tuesday’s match-up between the Carolina Hurricanes and the Ottawa Senators.
That carried on right through the end of regulation as Victor Rask and Sebastian Aho each scored as part of the Hurricanes’ 2-1 comeback win over the Sens.
A 29-save effort from starting goaltender Cam Ward topped the 37 stops opposing keeper Craig Anderson made as he held up the Senators’ hopes of pulling even right until the dying seconds.
Only Jean-Gabriel Pageau’s seventh goal of the season made it past Ward as his 14th win gave Carolina another two points, sitting at 54 with a 23-19-8 record.
“We had to build a game,” Ward said.
“To come out of the first period unscathed, then the second period I thought we really started to get our legs goin’ and creating opportunities down in their zone. Then, obviously in the third, we knew the importance and desperation that needed to take place in the locker room and I thought that’s exactly what we showed in the third.”
It was the first of three meetings between the two clubs as the Hurricanes began a critical eight-game home stand – part of what head coach Bill Peters described as the team’s playoff run.
New majority owner Tom Dundon initiated a ‘fill the lower bowl’ initiative to enhance the game experience for fans while looking to create the playoff-type environment the players would feed off.
In the end, 11,448 energetic Caniacs witnessed a well contested one-goal victory.
In an up-close and personal manner, they collectively watched a technically executed puck-possession display that eventually earned the triumphant and desired result.
“We started to win more draws and that equals puck possession which equals more time in the O-zone,” Peters said.
Playing to a scoreless opening period, Pageau’s marker with 1:12 remaining in the second put the Senators ahead 1-0.
Returning from a four-game absence after suffering a concussion and leg injury in a recent loss to the Calgary Flames, Aho wired his 17th goal of the season past Anderson at the 1:49 mark of the third period.
“He was hot when he left, and he looks like he picked up right where he left off, so that’s good,” Peters pointed out of the Hurricanes’ leading scorer.
Just under 10 minutes later, Rask’s short-side wrist shot beat Anderson, and gave the center his 12th goal and third game-winner of the season.
It was the Hurricanes’ lone power play goal on three man-advantage opportunities on the night.
Following a 6-5 win in Montreal before the NHL All-Star Game break, Carolina now sits two points behind the Philadelphia Flyers, occupants of the Eastern Conference’s second wildcard spot.
The desperation to win was felt by the players during the second intermission and they responded.
The intensity of how it all played out was amplified due to the extra attention an ambitious owner gave fans for their commitment and support of the team.
It couldn’t have been scripted better, and ended a recent four-game losing streak in the building.
“At the end of the day, it’s all about winning,” forward Lee Stempniak said.
“More fans closer to the ice certainly creates a better atmosphere. We’ve got great fans. It’s a loud building and they especially get into it. If we can turn that into any advantage, it’d be huge.”
Peter Koutroumpis: 401-323-8960, @pksport