TORONTO – There were so many reasons for Paul Maurice to smile Monday night that a victory over his former team or the end of a five-game losing streak didn’t even top the list.
The Carolina Hurricanes coach was beaming as he gave his two young sons a quick tour of the visitor’s dressing room at Air Canada Centre in the wake of a 2-0 victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs.
It’s something he didn’t do much while coaching the Maple Leafs over the last two seasons – choosing instead to keep his kids away from the high-pressure environment he worked in. The mood was buoyant as the Hurricanes packed up their things on this night and Maurice’s boys were clearly thrilled to follow their dad around for a couple minutes.
The moment of levity couldn’t have come at a much better time for Maurice, who has been unafraid to admit that games against his former team mean a little more. He didn’t feel comfortable on Monday until the final buzzer finally sounded.
“When I was walking off the bench and neither of the referees were waving that we had to come back, that’s when I knew it was over,” said Maurice.
Cam Ward provided a standout performance in the win, stopping all 35 shots he faced to earn his second shutout of the season. It was especially important since he was starting for the 12th straight game – meaning he was in goal for the entire five-game losing streak the team had been mired in.
Some of his best saves came when the game was still scoreless in the second period. He turned away Niklas Hagman on a breakaway and made consecutive stops on Tomas Kaberle and Anton Stralman.
“The way things have been going these past five games those pucks probably would have went in,” said Ward. “It was nice tonight to be rewarded with some good bounces and get the win.
“This was a big win for our hockey club and hopefully we can build off it.”
It was more of the same for the Maple Leafs. They’ve now gone 127 minutes 51 seconds since scoring on home ice and lost for the 10th time in 13 games.
Coach Ron Wilson was most upset with a couple bad plays that led to Carolina’s goals. Kaberle was in the penalty box for clearing the puck over the glass from his own end when Joe Corvo opened the scoring at 16:26 of the second period.
The real back-breaker came with just 4.9 seconds left in the middle frame. Alexei Ponikarovsky had a golden chance to clear the puck from the Leafs zone, but put it on the stick of Matt Cullen instead. Cullen quickly found LaRose all alone in front and it was 2-0 after 40 minutes.
“It’s inexusable, the couple mistakes we made that led to their goals,” said Wilson.
Toronto came out with more desperation in the third period but Ward was equal to the challenge – getting his pad on a Hagman’s shot from in close before turning away an Ian White slapshot a few moments later. He later stopped a Ponikarovsky chance from the top of the crease to preserve the shutout.
The solid outing couldn’t have come at a much better time for Ward.
“He needed to have this game for his own career,” said Maurice. “He’s going to have to play a lot of games (and) he’s going to have to learn how to conserve on certain nights.
“Being good for him will never be good enough for our franchise or his talent. He’s going to have to be better.”
The Hurricanes improved to 22-20-5 and are one point back of Pittsburgh for eighth place in the Eastern Conference. Carolina visits the Penguins on Tuesday in its final game before this weekend’s all-star break.
While a win against the Leafs meant something personally to Maurice, it was just as important to his players for other reasons.
“We just had to win a game,” said Maurice. “We were going so well, feeling so good, and then boom – we got beat five straight times and you’re wondering what’s going south on us.
“This was a big, big win.”
The loss was only part of the bad news the Maple Leafs received on Monday.
Wilson said after the morning skate that he expected to have defenceman Mike Van Ryn back in the lineup for the first time since Dec. 18, but a failed baseline test kept him on the sidelines. He’ll need more time to recover from his second concussion of the season.
Toronto heard a few boos from the home crowd once again. The fans knew it was likely going to be a painful season and things might only get worse from here for the 17-22-7 team.
The Maple Leafs face Boston at home on Wednesday before getting a couple days off during this weekend’s all-star break.
“We have to regroup and get it back the next game,” said Ponikarovsky.
Notes: Announced attendance was 19,018 … Eric Staal played his 301st consecutive game for Carolina … The Leafs dropped to 2-6-1 in January … Hurricanes captain Rod Brind’Amour has a league-worst minus-29 rating. He’s a two-time Selke Trophy winner as the NHL’s top defensive forward … Carolina is the least-penalized team in the league … Toronto F Nik Antropov has gone 14 games without a goal.