RALEIGH — Tuomo Ruutu scored his first career hat trick, and Ray Whitney provided some unintentional late-game suspense Wednesday night in trying to get Ruutu that first hat trick.
But for the Carolina Hurricanes, a 5-3 win over the Dallas Stars at the RBC Center was more a matter of starting well, finishing well and leaving the rink with smiles all around. And, this season, that has been a rarity.
While Ruutu was the headliner, Eric Staal had a goal, two assists and one of his best defensive efforts. Jussi Jokinen had a goal and assist, defensemen Joni Pitkanen and Bryan Rodney two assists apiece, and goaltender Cam Ward picked up his first victory since Oct. 9 against the Florida Panthers.
"It was just nice to get the win," Ruutu said. "I've never scored a hat trick before, but at the same time I thought we played a great game. The way we played in the third, I don't think we gave them too many chances."
The Hurricanes have had their share of strong first periods followed by third-period collapses, being outscored 46-21 in the final period before Wednesday's game. But Ruutu scored twice in the third, and Carolina outshot Dallas 11-5 in the period in making its home record at 7-7-2.
And, Whitney apologized to everyone for making things a bit too interesting at the end.
Ruutu's second goal, at 4:47 of the third, pushed the Canes ahead 4-2. Then, in the final two minutes, the Stars pulled goaltender Marty Turco for a sixth attacker.
Whitney found himself with the puck in the Stars' zone and had a decent look at an empty net with about 1:40 left. But he kept looking for Ruutu, wanting to be the playmaker and get Ruutu that third goal.
Except the Stars got to the puck. Loui Eriksson scored with 1:04 to play, and it was a 4-3 game.
But this one would end well for the Canes. Whitney, given a mulligan on a power play, did get the puck to Ruutu, and Ruutu did hit an empty net with 5.3 seconds left, sending caps and hats flying onto the ice.
"I told him next time just put it into net," Ward, smiling, said of Whitney. "But he's classy man, and that's why everybody loves Ray."
Whitney said he "heard it on the bench" after the Stars made it 4-3.
"I knew Ruutu had never scored a hat trick before, and it's pretty special thing to do," he said. "That was my fault, but I'm glad he got it in the end."
Jokinen and Staal scored power-play goals and Ruutu picked up his first goal on a spinning backhander as the Canes bolted to a 3-0 lead in the first.
The Stars' Steve Ott scored a power-play goal late in the period, and Brenden Morrow did the same at 8:32 of the second to make it 3-2.
Ruutu's second goal came when his centering pass glanced off Eriksson early in the third. But the Canes, back in the RBC Center after a four-game road trip last week, held on.
"It was a real important game for us, a confidence-builder, I think," coach Paul Maurice said.
The Hurricanes played without defensemen Tim Gleason and Niclas Wallin, out with upper-body injuries. But Rodney, called up Tuesday from the Albany River Rats of the American Hockey League, was solid, as were former call-ups Jay Harrison and Brett Carson. Maurice rolled four lines, the Canes had the three power-play goals and Ward had 24 saves in addition to his eighth career assist.
"We really controlled the play in their zone in the third period," Ward said. "We've kind of been letting leads slip away, but the guys buckled down and played hard."
Ruutu said he could not remember his last hat trick. Probably years ago, back in his native Finland.
"Probably when I was 10 years old," he said, joking.
Nor did he want a keepsake. After the third goal, a referee handed him the puck. Ruutu tossed it into the stands.
"We won, and now we're playing some music in the locker room," Ruutu said. "That's always fun."
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