RALEIGH, N.C. – One of the “Erics” from the Carolina Hurricanes’ glory days seemed destined to make the biggest play Thursday night. Cam Ward was just glad it was the one who’s still with the team.
Eric Staal scored the only goal in the shootout to lead Carolina past the Montreal Canadiens, 2-1 in the Hurricanes’ home finale.
Chad LaRose scored on the power play, and Ward made 30 saves before stopping the Canadiens cold in the tiebreaker to give the Hurricanes their second straight victory and first win in a shootout this season. They entered 0-6 in them.
“It’s nice that we didn’t get shut out of the shootouts,” Ward said. “It only seemed fitting to go into a shootout and give ourselves an opportunity to finally win one.”
Blake Geoffrion scored, and Peter Budaj stopped 28 shots for the Canadiens. They were 0 for 7 on the power play before a shootout in which Ward stuffed Lars Eller and David Desharnais. Budaj countered by thwarting Jussi Jokinen and Jeff Skinner.
That set up a third-round matchup of former linemates—Staal and Montreal’s Erik Cole. Then-coach Peter Laviolette called them the “Erics” when they helped the Hurricanes win their only Stanley Cup in 2006, and they helped fuel a deep playoff run three years later.
“We definitely didn’t want it to end with Erik Cole winning in the shootout,” Ward said, smiling.
Cole had Ward beat but rang the right post with a wrist shot. Staal then ended it when he chipped a wrist shot over Budaj’s glove.
“Everyone’s going to ask me about using (Staal) and I just thought it was fitting, the way he played in the second half, it was great to see him be the final shooter and score the final goal,” said Carolina coach Kirk Muller, who spent the past five seasons on the Canadiens’ coaching staff.
The Hurricanes improved to 9-0-2 in their last 11 games against Northeast Division opponents, and handed Montreal its seventh straight road loss.
“There was a lot of desperation in our play,” interim Canadiens coach Randy Cunneyworth said. “We were under the gun, under fire, and there’s desperation in the box and getting in the way of some mean shots.”
The victory also helped Carolina in its bid to avoid its first last-place finish in the Southeast Division since 2003.
“I think we’re in the right direction,” Staal said. “As a player, I want to be back in the playoffs, and I’m sure as a fanbase, everybody around here wants to be back there, too. We’ll look forward to next season.”
Six nights earlier, another former teammate from ’06—Winnipeg’s Andrew Ladd—beat Ward in overtime to give the Hurricanes the loss that mathematically eliminated them from the playoff picture. This time, the Carolina goalie came up with several spectacular saves after giving up that second-period goal to Geoffrion.
Among them: He dove across an open net to barely deflect Desharnais’ point-blank wrist shot with his blocker late in the second, about 3 minutes before he used his right pad to stuff Tomas Plekanec’s short-handed breakaway attempt. Then, Ward stopped a breakaway by Andrei Markov with about 5 minutes left in the third.
“You don’t want to take your foot off the gas just because we’re out of the playoffs,” Ward said.
A flurry of penalties in a wild final 3 minutes of the third left the Canadiens with a 4-on-3 power play for 72 seconds and a 15-second 5-on-3 advantage in the closing seconds. Despite that, the Hurricanes had the best chance to win it in regulation but Budaj stuffed LaRose on a breakaway with about 5 seconds left.
LaRose tied it at 1 with 9:58 left in the second when he stuffed a loose puck between Budaj’s pads, giving the Hurricanes a power-play goal in two straight games. They were 1 for 6 with the man advantage in this one.
It came after Geoffrion scored the opening goal by collecting the rebound of Mike Blunden’s shot from the circle and slipping a pretty wraparound past Ward 4:32 into the second.
Geoffrion’s score came during a 15-minute stretch in which Carolina put just two shots on Budaj—mostly because so many Hurricanes were parading to the penalty box. Montreal’s fourth power-play chance came in opening minute of the second period, and the Canadiens came up empty on all four—a precursor of things to come.
“Their goaltender was good, their penalty kill was good as well,” Cunneyworth said. “There was a lot of opportunity for special teams, but obviously, neither team took great advantage of it. A lot of hard battles.”
NOTES: Canadiens D Tomas Kaberle returned after missing nine games with an upper body injury, and made his first visit to Raleigh since the Hurricanes traded him to Montreal on Dec. 9 for D Jaroslav Spacek. Spacek was in the starting lineup after a lower body injury cost him eight games. … The North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame said it will honour the Hurricanes’ 2006 Stanley Cup championship team as part of its “Great Moments” series. … Staal was selected the team MVP, and D Jay Harrison won the Josef Vasicek Award for co-operation with the local media after a vote of the Carolina chapter of the Professional Hockey Writers Association.