“I didn’t want to look until the shootout started,” the Hurricanes captain said. “It was a 4-3 final, so I knew the shootout was going to be huge. Then those guys came through with those huge goals.”
Rookie Jeff Skinner and Tuomo Ruutu scored in the shootout as the Carolina beat the Washington Capitals, 3-2, at Verizon Center. The score Staal mentioned came from the only other game the ‘Canes had to concern themselves with Tuesday, a contest where the Maple Leafs squaked out win over the Buffalo Sabres.
“We got a little bit of help,” Carolina coach Paul Maurice said. “Now we have to go back at it. That’s our fate with the schedule we have this year.”
The Sabres hold the eighth and final playoff spot in the East and things just got a little tighter. Carolina moved to within three points of the Sabres and both teams have six games left on the schedule – including a head-to-head matchup on Sunday. The Leafs finished Tuesday five points behind the Sabres.
Carolina’s playoff hopes appeared slightly dim in the second period. Referees missed a high stick by Caps defenseman Karl Alzner that resulted in a gash in Staal’s forehead, a cut which required seven stitches to close. Maurice took issue with a couple other calls, including a too many men on the ice call just before the Caps pulled ahead 2-1 on a Marcus Johansson tally late in the period.
“This game was so much more important to us than what happened there in the second period,” Maurice said. “I didn’t know what was going on. At the same time, we had to refocus and get back to playing.”
No matter. The Caps gave it all back when goalie Semyon Varlamov let in soft goal by Skinner that tied the game 1:46 left in regulation. Overall it wasn’t a bad way for the ‘Canes to avoid getting swept by the Caps in their six meeting this season.
“The biggest thing coming into the game was where we are in the standings,” Skinner said. “I don’t think you look back on a head-to-head. When you come this far, your focus is on the next game and the future and it was a big two points for us.”
Maurice added that those points were bigger when you factor in the two players that returned to the lineup for the Caps. Captain and former MVP Alex Ovechkin (out three games with an undisclosed injury) and center Jason Arnott (out six games with an undisclosed injury) were both back in action.
“It was a little bit of curve ball when they got their players back,” Maurice said. “We handled that well, too. We wanted to beat at team with their best. Confidence is something that we’ve been searching for. We’ve played hard and played well. You should feel good about wins like this.”
This victory can’t be savored long. The ‘Canes will host the Montreal Canadiens tonight, another team ahead of them in the East standings.
Carolina 3, Washington 2 (SO)
Toronto 4, Buffalo 3
Philadelphia 5 Pittsburgh 2
Columbus 3 Florida 2 (SO)
Montreal 3, Atlanta 1
Boston 3, Chicago 0
Tampa Bay 5, Ottawa 2
Minnesota 3, St. Louis 2 (SO)
Vancouver 3, Nashville 1
Los Angeles 2, Edmonton 0
Phoenix 2 , Dallas 1 (SO)
-- A.J Perez