Ray Whitney and the last-place Carolina Hurricanes weren’t going down without a fight. Several of them, actually.
Whitney scored two goals to lead Carolina to a chippy 2-1 victory against the Colorado Avalanche on Friday night. Cam Ward finished with 29 saves and took a bid for his 13th career shutout into the final minute, and Matt Cullen added two assists for the NHL’s worst team, which has won three of five – including this melee-filled contest in which 42 of the 58 penalty minutes came in the first period.
“Playing that kind of game is tiring,” Whitney quipped. “I don’t know if you can do it much longer than that.”
Brandon Yip scored with 15.5 seconds left, and Peter Budaj made 18 saves for the Avalanche, who have lost two straight in regulation for the first time since mid-November.
“We’ve got to find a way to bury” the puck, Avalanche coach Joe Sacco said. “We kept coming after them, especially in the second and third period. We just couldn’t pull it behind them today.”
The violence started early in this one when Colorado’s Darcy Tucker and Carolina’s Tuomo Ruutu traded punches – apparently retaliating for Ruutu’s hit on Tucker in the teams’ last meeting. On Oct. 23, Ruutu sent Tucker into the boards and, eventually, off the ice on a backboard, leaving behind a pool of blood on the ice.
“It was a little redemption from Tucker,” Yip said.
Ward, who made his 11th straight start, flirted with his first shutout since a 9-0 victory over the New York Islanders on April 7. Carolina, which has picked up seven points in its last six games, entered with 29 points – 10 behind Toronto, the second-worst team in the East.
“You want to go out there, you want to try to give your team a chance to win each and every night,” Ward said. “I’m starting to feel a lot more comfortable – I’ve got more of a smile on my face, and having some fun out there.”
Whitney made it a two-goal game 37 seconds into the second period, skating down the right side, faking a slap shot and instead sneaking a wrist shot past Budaj for his 13th goal. That gave him his third multigoal game of the season and first since Dec. 12, when he scored twice in a 4-2 loss to Ottawa.
His first goal in this one came 5½ minutes in and capped off one of the team’s best individual efforts of the season. Just 29 seconds into a charging penalty on Cody McLeod, Whitney took a pass from Cullen, skated by a turned-around Ryan Wilson between the hash marks and slipped a backhand past Budaj.
“(Wilson) was standing flat-footed – that’s not an enviable position to be in when a guy’s coming with speed at you,” Whitney said. “Budaj thought I was going to shoot it right away, and he kind of slipped a little bit himself.”
That came after things got off to a chippy start when Tucker and Ruutu dropped their gloves roughly four minutes in. Each player received a fighting major for their latest brouhaha, the first in a series of dustups between the teams and one of the highlights of the whistle-filled opening period.
This time, it was Ruutu who wound up hurt; he didn’t return after sustaining an upper-body injury.
“That’s kind of a code of ethics, when you hit a guy the way he did and knock him out for a certain period of time, you kind of have to answer it the next time,” Whitney said. “He was a man about it, and he lined up with him. He could have went to the other side, but he lined up and did kind of what is required in the game of hockey.
“Unfortunately, he hurt himself doing it, but as teammates and a group of players, you respect him even more for standing up.”
NOTES: Avalanche C Paul Stastny beat Ward from point-blank range with about 7½ minutes left, but his shot rang the left post. … Colorado fell to 8-4-1 against the East. … Cullen has points in three straight games. … Carolina RW Tom Kostopoulos pulled Wilson’s jersey over his head during another early scrap. Colorado RW Chris Stewart returned the favour to Hurricanes D Tim Gleason during the faceoff that followed Whitney’s second goal.