The Hurricanes managed to get on the board early with captain Eric Staal continuing where he left off from Saturday’s 4-1 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning as he scored the team’s lone goal of the game late in the first period.
In battling with the Rangers and rolling four lines against a team that was trying to end a five-game losing streak, Carolina goaltender Dan Ellis did his best in turning pucks away, making 35 saves by the end of it all.
“We played a very strong first period,” Ellis said.
“But we still let them come out and match our intensity in the second. They really outworked us and that’s happened a couple of times now – where we come out with a good start and then we get off our game plan – we’ve gotta’ learn from it. It’s starting to cost us.”
The Rangers outshot the Hurricanes 36-30 for the game, particularly during the second and third periods when New York’s 25-13 edge in scoring opportunities finally paid off with a controversial Derek Stepan goal that tied the game.
“I thought our game was good tonight,” head coach Kirk Muller said.
“We knew coming into New York it was going to be two teams battling for big points. We came out really strong in the first – got away from our game in the second – but got back into a nice, tight third period. You walk in here and get a point in New York, it was a good effort here tonight.”
Learning how to hold on
Even while regaining first place in the Southeast Division by earning a point with a game in-hand over the Winnipeg Jets, Carolina is still working to come out with the upper hand after every important game it plays.
“We’re still learning from these big games,” Muller continued.
“With some young guys in the lineup, each one we go like this, it’s a new experience.”
As the team will not have much of a rest as it will finish a back-to-back set by taking on the Florida Panthers at home in Raleigh on Tuesday, the lineup on Monday saw some adjustments as the Hurricanes tried to keep fresh legs on the ice throughout.
Rolling all lines
Forward Kevin Westgarth talked about the importance of keeping fresh legs on the ice a few weeks back, and what the advantage of rolling all lines could hold for a team to be successful going down the stretch.
“It’s especially important in this shortened season,” Westgarth said.
“You’re crammin’ in a lot of games and a lot of ice time of your top guys. Any extra minutes you can get out of your third and fourth lines is great and any goals that they can chip in is obviously bonus. When you can get your fourth line playing against any line, you don’t have to match too specifically – that’s huge. The way the game goes – it is absolutely essential to go deep because even though the season is shorter, the playoffs are going to be the same. It’s a lot of games in a short period of time and you need everybody goin’. “
Having not played since Mar. 7, Westgarth was inserted into the lineup against New York on a pretty sizeable line with Tim Wallace and recently acquired Adam Hall.
Though not producing any points, the line’s effort didn’t cost the team any, even with Westgarth taking a slashing penalty in the third period.
It will pay dividends
The mix of players on the team’s third and fourth lines will pay dividends down the stretch while Muller and his staff continue to find that mix, a puzzle that they have been working on all season.
Westgarth pointed out the team’s success back during the 2006 Cup-winning season and the role that depth players had in earning that title.
“A lot of the time, and you saw it here, fourth line put in some great minutes - when they won the cup here - they didn’t generate a lot of points or anything, but any minutes those guys were on the ice, they were wearin’ the other team out, and keepin’ your guys fresher,” Westgarth said.
“We’re still trying to find that magic mix, if not just fourth line, even bottom six. As negative as that sounds, it is incredibly important. If you’ve got three guys kind of playing that same game, that’s the most important thing. It’s that North mentality, get the cycle going, get the puck to the net as much as possible. You’re going to get your hits in, you’re gonna’ get the 40 seconds in their zone and it burns out their D, burns out whoever they’re on the ice against. The extra physical play always helps that too.”
Understanding what is going on with the bottom six part of the lineup can only help many watching to try and understand the tough task of opening up time and space for the top six to do their job in putting pucks in the net.
Carolina will continue to work on its mixing and matching while holding onto a playoff spot, and probably not make it very easy to follow and watch.
Get ready as the Hurricanes’ roller coaster ride approaches its first peak.