RALEIGH, N.C. – The Carolina Hurricanes have long since gotten over being wowed by rookie Jeff Skinner.
The 18-year-old’s 18th goal of the season stood as the game-winner in Carolina’s 6-4 victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs on Monday.
Skinner says he was fortunate the puck came to him. Those who’ve seen him play up close know better.
“He’s just a special player,” Carolina coach Paul Maurice said.
Brandon Sutter scored twice in the third period for Carolina, which blew a two-goal lead in the third but held off Toronto to record 13 points in eight January home games. The victory at the RBC Center, the site of this weekend’s all-star game, was the 1,000th in the history of the Hartford-Carolina franchise.
The Hurricanes improved to 16-0-0 when holding the lead after two periods. They are 7-0-1 when Sutter scores and 13-2 when Skinner scores.
Skinner scored after a slap shot by Joe Corvo deflected off Toronto’s Luke Schenn on a power play. Skinner one-timed the puck past Jean-Sebastien Giguere for a 5-3 lead with 8:58 remaining.
“He’s certainly in the right spots,” defenceman Jay Harrison said. “He has a terrific nose for the net, and he’s not afraid to get the dirty goals. He’s working for them. That’s what’s most impressive to me, to see a young man come in and do that and not be intimidated.”
Skinner credited his teammates with keeping the focus in a wild third period. The Hurricanes took a 3-1 lead that disappeared quickly.
“It’s definitely not the way we drew it up,” Skinner said. “It was kind of a weird game. When you find a way to win, it’s always good.”
Tim Brent scored two third-period goals for the Maple Leafs, who got within 5-4 in Mike Brown’s power-play goal with 5:45 to go. Erik Cole’s empty-netter in the final minute sealed the victory for Carolina.
“It’s disappointing,” Toronto captain Dion Phaneuf said. “We fought back, gave ourselves a chance to win the game and then they come back and bang, bang. We had a lot of fight in us tonight to come back, but it’s still disappointing to lose those points that are right there for us.”
Brent’s goals tied the score at three early in the third period. He scored first on a backhander over Ward’s left shoulder then added a shorthanded goal with 15:31 remaining.
Brent took a long slap pass from Phaneuf and came in on the right side. He faked a shot and Ward lunged, then Brent put the puck into an open net from a wide angle for the tie.
Carolina’s Jamie McBain broke a 1-1 tie with a long slap shot midway through the second period. His shot deflected off defenceman Mike Komisarek’s stick and over the right shoulder of Giguere.
Notes: Carolina defenceman Tim Gleason was given a game misconduct after first-period scuffle with Nikolai Kulemin. … Skinner leads all rookies in points, with 40 in 49 games. … Toronto fell to 2-21-2 when trailing after two periods. … Ward had 26 saves for Carolina, and Giguere had 22 for the Maple Leafs.