Both teams skated to scoreless first and third periods that sandwiched a goal-filled second period that included Carolina forward Jussi Jokinen scoring his second of the season, and the eventual game-winner on the power play at 12:58.
While goaltender Dan Ellis backstopped the Hurricanes to victory by turning away 22 Toronto shots, defenseman Joe Corvo and forward Jordan Staal each tallied their own second goals of the season during the middle period as well.
“I thought we had a really good balance of four lines tonight,” Hurricanes coach Kirk Muller said.
“In the last two or three games, I think that’s the best we’ve had for production as far as just rolling four lines and six D. Everyone feels that they’re contributing and every night you need a different hero.”
Seeing it all
Throughout the first period, both teams went through the motions, gaining the zone on offense, circulating the puck and working to get a shot on each goaltender as both Ellis and the Leafs’ Ben Scrivens were kept busy facing eight shots apiece.
“Defensively we kept everything to the outside, we boxed them out, we cleared away rebounds,” Ellis said.
“I really like that style of play that we have adapted to over this (recent) road trip.”
The Hurricanes returned home after a six-game road trip that brought them back to PNC Arena with renewed energy and confidence and sporting a 7-4-1 record and top spot in the Southeast Division.
“That’s what road trips do – give you a chance to learn about yourself, your character, what you can do when you’re in difficult circumstances - but it also gives you a chance to make those adjustments,” Ellis said.
“We’re showing that we’ve got that fire power and that we can score, but I think now we’re mixing it up with strong defense – not just the D-men – team defense.”
Carolina head coach Kirk Muller was especially pleased to see how hard his team worked to maintain its momentum at home after spending 12 days away from it.
He accounted much of his team’s success to the comfort level that the players have developed while playing alongside one another, and buying into what the coaching staff has been directing them to do at both ends of the ice.
“I think right now we’re getting used to our system,” Muller said.
“Our third guy has been playing safe and reliable and taking the pressure off our defense.”
Missing veteran defensemen Tim Gleason and Joni Pitkanen, Carolina used its remaining five blue liners and called up Michal Jordan from the team’s American Hockey League (AHL) affiliate club, the Charlotte Checkers, to fill in on Thursday.
Even with further roster adjustments that included forward Chad LaRose being a healthy scratch to make room for heavyweight Kevin Westgarth, Muller saw many good things in how the team played its system.
“We’re not giving up hardly any odd-numbered situations anymore, and that allows the other two forwards to go hunt the puck down and just go hard,” Muller said when talking about the team’s defensive play.
“I think it’s helping our forecheck and eliminated a lot of scoring chances on outnumbered situations.”
At the other end of the ice, the Hurricanes coach sees his forwards developing good chemistry amongst one another which is translating into tangible results – goals.
“Guys are starting to know where each other are,” Muller said.
“When you do that - the defensive part of the other team tries to defend that - it opens up the defense. We’re doing a really good job of cycling and using our points for shots. All five guys on the ice are more involved now. It just seems that they’re more cohesive now than they were at the start.”
Opening it up
After a scoreless first period, it was a fight between Westgarth and Leafs enforcer Colton Orr that became the main highlight, just over two minutes into it.
After the first intermission, the two teams decided to play some hockey in the second period, and picked up the pace of play, which resulted in four goals being scored throughout.
Corvo put the Hurricanes ahead 1-0, finishing a play that Eric Staal started coming out of the corner to Scrivens’ left.
After the Hurricanes captain slipped while attempting to beat a Leafs defenseman, his subsequent swipe at the puck pushed it towards the slot area where Corvo jumped into the play, and beat Scrivens with a shot high to his blocker side, and into the top corner of the net.
As play at both ends got more physical, the Leafs got the opportunity they were looking for on the power play after Hurricanes defenseman Bobby Sanguinetti was penalized for interference.
A point shot from Dion Phaneuf from the right point found its way past Ellis after ricocheting off defenseman Jamie McBain's leg, hitting Leafs forward Nazem Kadri’s shin pad, and ending up in the net – giving the young Leafs forward the tying goal with 12:09 remaining in the period.
Carolina got its first chance with the man-advantage five minutes later and Jokinen didn’t waste much time in picking up the rebound after a Jeff Skinner shot attempt on goal was blocked.
As the puck continued to slide in front of the net, and with bodies battling for it, Jokinen pulled it to the right side of a sprawling Scrivens, and scored the power play goal that put the Hurricanes ahead again.
With the 2-1 lead, Carolina continued to press the Toronto defense after each unsuccessful offensive sequence that the Leafs put together.
After Toronto got the puck into the Carolina zone, defenseman Jamie McBain started the Hurricanes breakout and pushed it up the right boards to Skinner.
Skinner gained the zone to Scrivens' left with Pat Dwyer headed to the net and Jordan Staal trailing in the high slot.
Skinner let a shot go that the Toronto goalie made a pad save on, but it rebounded right to a wide-open Staal on the other side, who wristed the puck it into the open goal for Carolina's third and final goal of the period, and eventually the game.
“The D-men did a good job of standing them up in the neutral zone, turned a lot of pucks over for us,” Skinner said after finishing with assists on Carolina’s final two goals.
“I think we’ve done a good job of really working hard these last few games and it’s paid off for us.”