The Carolina Hurricanes are a team that places an incredible amount of emphasis on the production of two players: goalie Cam Ward and forward Eric Staal. While Staal was snubbed in both games in Finland, Ward is one of the main reasons why the Canes will leave Helsinki with a maximum four out of four points in those contests.
Ward’s 41 out of 42 saves and perfect shootout performance out-dueled Minnesota Wild goalie Niklas Backstrom, who stopped 36 out of 37 shots in real time and then stopped 2 out of 3 shootout attempts.
Who knows if the Hurricanes will keep first round pick Jeff Skinner at the NHL level beyond the nine games they can play him in before a year of his entry-level deal expires, but so far Skinner is making a pretty compelling argument to stay. He made a nice hustle play as Backstrom left his net, creating enough havoc before getting the puck to Jussi Jokinen who fed fellow Finnish-born forward Tuomo Ruutu for Carolina’s only regulation goal. Skinner also scored the game’s lone shootout goal, so he essentially tallied the “game winner” in this one.
The Wild clearly took this game more seriously than the last, at least in the early going. The team rained 18 shots on Ward in the first period and 30 in the first two frames, but were out-shot 15-4 in the third period. Minnesota renewed their sense of urgency in the overtime period, though, hammering eight shots on goal in just five OT minutes.
You cannot blame Wild captain Mikko Koivu for this loss, that’s for sure. The Finnish-born center had an outstanding game, as he assisted on Andrew Brunette’s power-play goal, won an astounding 21 out of 25 faceoffs and put eight shots on goal in the contest. After a great game yesterday, Brandon Sutter must have been abused by Koivu in the dot because he only won one out of 19 faceoffs in this game and did not register a point in this low-scoring game.
While Minnesota must leave this game frustrated, they’ll at least register one point out of a possible four thanks to it being a shootout loss. After going 2-2 in his first four games last year, Ward didn’t win his third game until December 16 (more than two months later), so the Hurricanes are hoping this is a sign of a better start – for the goalie and the team – than they saw in the 2009-10 season.