Staal’s late goal lifts Hurricanes over Lightning

RALEIGH, North Carolina (Ticker) — Lately, nothing has come
easily for the Carolina Hurricanes and All-Star Eric Staal.

Such was the case Thursday, when Staal snapped a tie with 96
seconds remaining in the third period as the Hurricanes edged
the Tampa Bay Lightning, 3-2.

Matt Cullen recorded a goal and an assist and Chad LaRose netted
the first shorthanded goal of the season for Carolina, which has
won three of four following a five-game losing streak.

“We talked about it before the game. This is a huge
30-something games for us,” Staal said. “We’ve got to win.
There’s a few other teams we’re battling with, and we’ve got to
bring our consistent work ethic and effort every night.”

Needing to come up with a late goal in order to emerge
victorious apparently does not bother Staal.

“Nope, that’s fine, as long as we’re winning,” the 24-year-old

Cam Ward turned aside 27 shots to post his 100th career triumph
and help the Hurricanes improve to 4-0-0 against the Lightning
this season.

Former Hurricane Mark Recchi scored a goal and set up another
while Ryan Malone also tallied for the Lightning, who were
denied of winning four in a row for the first time this season.

“We played a good hockey game,” Tampa Bay interim coach Rick
Tocchet said. “I thought we played really well. They got the
goal at the end to win the game. It’s a tough one because the
energy level was there, and the guys have been playing good.
It’s a heartbreaker.”

Carolina has had problems generating much on the offensive end
during its recent tailspin, averaging fewer than two goals in
its previous eight games. During that span, the Hurricanes had
been outscored, 27-15.

But Staal helped turn things around for one night as he beat
goaltender Mike Smith after finding a loose puck on the
doorstep, snapping a 2-2 deadlock.

“I thought we had some chances earlier that were better,
probably, or maybe designed a little bit differently,” Carolina
coach Paul Maurice said. “But we’re taking whatever we get.”

The 40-year-old Recchi gave the Lightning an early lead by
netting his 11th goal of the season with just over three minutes
left in the first period. But Carolina forged a tie while down
a skater as LaRose took a feed from Cullen and fired a wrist
shot past Smith at 5:34 of the second.

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“I thought it was a big goal,” LaRose said. “It was good, it
gave us a little jump-start. It got the crowd into it, and I
thought we kind of took over from there.”

The Hurricanes were the last team in the NHL to score a
shorthanded goal.

“That was big,” Staal said. “Anytime you can score shorthanded,
that builds momentum and energy, and it really lifted our bench.
It got everybody excited again.”

Cullen put the Hurricanes ahead with 84 seconds remaining in the
session, solving Smith with a wrist shot from the doorstep after
grabbing the puck from behind the net.

“If you want to be a big-time goalie in this league, you’ve got
to help the team win,” Smith said. “You can’t let in goals like
that. You can’t give the puck away like that.

“I just cost the team two points. This was the biggest game of
the year. I’m sick to my stomach.”

Tocchet gave Smith some credit for not only his effort, but
owning up to his mistakes.

“(Smith) is a leader, and leaders do that,” Tocchet said. “He’s
not hiding from that fact. He still had a good game. He’d
probably like to have one (goal) back, but it is what it is.”

Tampa Bay – which entered having won six of its previous eight –
pulled even at 2-2 as Malone tipped in Recchi’s initial attempt
while stationed in the low slot at 5:10 of the third.

Smith made 28 saves for the Lightning, who have gone 10-7-1
since getting off to a 7-16-9 start.

“The margin of error is so small now that a loss like this,
especially to a team we’re trying to catch, is a huge loss,”
Tampa Bay’s Jeff Halpern said. “However many games we have, we
have to get to 10 games over .500, and right now, we’re five
games under.

“Every loss right now is a big loss. I thought we played well
enough to at least get a point.”