Cary, NC – After a disappointing week in Canada, with one win and the break of what was the longest current winning streak in the NHL, the Carolina Hurricanes found their winning ways against the Florida Panthers, falling behind by two goals then came back with a strong second period performance for a 3-2 win.
Call-up, back-up goalie and former Holly Springs resident Michael Leighton was starting in goal for the first time since 2014 and played very well down the stretch, earning not only his first NHL win since 2013 but also won the first star of the game.
Canes Lackluster in the First
Jaromir Jagr scored 266 goals in the NHL before Hurricanes rookie Sebastian Aho was even born and the man still knows how to get it done. Not trying to say the officials give well-seasoned veterans the benefit of doubt, but it sure looked like Jagr’s stick was between the Leighton’s pads impeding his ability to move to his right on the Panthers’ first goal. Leighton immediately yelled over to the ref but to no avail.
Just four minutes later, Leighton made a chest save off a shot by Aaron Ekblad, and just as he was extending his arm to catch the puck, Jagr hit the bottom of Leighton’s glove which resulted in the puck bouncing up and over Leighton’s shoulder into the goal for a second questionable goal. Just before that goal, Jordan Staal got a nudge from behind and landed hard into the boards, ending his night after just five shifts. Staal is the Canes most effective two-way player and his size helps keeps opposing players a little more honest against his smaller line mates.
Who Said What in the Locker Room
Word has it several Canes in the locker room were quite vocal in between periods; it may have been about the two goals, may have been about how Staal was sent to the boards or may have been the need to step up play all around as the Canes were sluggish at best in the first.
To a player, everyone stepped up their game. On the fourth line’s first shift in the second, they used their size and speed to keep the puck in the Panthers’ zone. Andrej Nestrasil banged along the back boards coming away with the puck and sent a quick pass to Viktor Stalberg who muscled his way to the corner of the crease and spanked in a quick shot between James Reimer’s pads to get the Canes on the board.
Less than two minutes later, Victor Rask stole the puck in the Canes D-zone then made a head man pass to Jeff Skinner in the neutral zone. Skinny turned on his jets and fought off a defender with one hand, faked left then sent a backhander top shelf over Reimer’s glove to tie the game. Everyone could feel the momentum of game shifting for the Canes and a little over a minute later the Canes would have their first powerplay of the night.
The Canes wasted little time converting with Skinny corralling the puck under a maze of bodies from the faceoff, making a bee-line to the goal only to have the puck deflected but right on the stick of Derek Ryan who paddled the puck in to give the Canes their first lead of the night.
Canes Hold On, Leighton Get First Win in Years
The question was, which Canes team would come out in the third? The lackluster team of the first or the aggressive team of the second?
The question was answered as the Canes came out skating hard, but so did the Panthers. Evidently, more was on the line for the Panthers than anyone knew as their coach was fired immediately after the game and even had to take a taxi to the airport rather than the team bus.
Florida did manage to get 10 shots off in the third but Leighton played great. He had a glove save late in the third had goal written all over it and how he made that save is still amazing. Not that Cam Ward has any worries of losing his starting job, but it was nice to see a back-up play so well and especially for Leighton who had a long road back to the NHL and is a true professional.
Next game is Sunday, December 4, 2016 against Tampa Bay at 5 PM and is a Family Night game which is a great deal for four tickets, four hot dogs, four bags of popcorn, four sodas and four vouchers to Marbles Kids Museum. Be there!