RALEIGH — The Chicago Blackhawks might be one of the top teams in the league, with explosive offense from center Jonathan Toews and forwards Patrick Kane and Marian Hossa.
But Carolina Hurricanes goalie Cam Ward stole the show in a 4-2 victory over the Blackhawks at the RBC Center Saturday.
With a sheet of ice and snow on Triangle roads, only a reported 6,896 showed for the game.
But they were treated to an exciting game, with the top Chicago trio trying but failing to generate enough to get the Hawks' first victory in the RBC Center.
For the better part of two periods, Ward was the neutralizer, coming up with big saves in the second and third periods that kept the Blackhawks at bay until forward Brandon Sutter and Matt Cullen broke open the game with goals 26 seconds apart near the midway point of the final period.
"Cam was outstanding tonight, and I'll say it again, every once in a while, we actually expect that out of him because we need it in a game like tonight," Carolina coach Paul Maurice said.
Just 1:35 before Sutter's goal, former Hurricane forward Andrew Ladd, who was traded to the Blackhawks for Tuomo Ruutu in 2008, tied the game at 2-2 with a shot from the left circle at 7:43 in the third period, drawing a loud applause from a solid showing from Chicago fans, who were soon disappointed.
"I'll probably be hearing it from Ladd on that second goal, but we got bragging rights with the win," Ward said.
And Sutter, capitalizing on a defensive breakdown, tipped in a hard shot from forward Chad LaRose at 9:08 for the game winner, with Cullen's goal coming at 9:34.
"It showed a lot for us, the position we're in, to battle the way we have been and to play with the confidence that we did tonight, do the things that we did," Cullen said. "I think we stuck with the game plan. It wasn't always easy, and things didn't always go our way but to fight the way we did and get a big win for the fans that battled the elements to get out here was great."
It was Carolina's fourth consecutive win and fifth win in six tries, giving the Hurricanes a 9-6 record in January, the second best in franchise history.
But the Hurricanes (19-28-7) would have to continue streaking for the remainder of the season to even be in playoff contention.
"Let's just keep playing," Maurice said when asked about the playoffs. "We've talked about working as hard as we can and enjoying that fact alone."
Cullen added: "It's disappointing that it comes so late, but at the same time, it's there and we have a lot of pride. We want to win games regardless of where we're at so it's nice to show our fans a good game and get a win and feel good about ourselves."
The first period was close to even, with each team getting off 10 shots on goal.
Carolina forward Sergei Samsonov managed the only goal of the period, scoring with 10 seconds left.
Hurricanes defenseman Andrew Alberts fired from the left wing, with forward Tom Kostopoulos getting an assist after Samsonov put away a loose puck at 19:50 in the first period.
Samsonov, a former Hawk claimed by the Canes on wavers in 2008, also earned an assist on Cullen's goal.
The second period was fast-paced, with the Blackhawks sending several rushes down the ice, and out-shooting the Hurricanes 16-6 in the period.
Hossa beat Ward with a backhander at 6:46, with forwards Patrick Sharp and Ladd earning assists on the play.
But as good as the Blackhawks were on numerous odd-man rushes, Ward was better.
"You can see we're playing with a lot more confidence," Ward said. "It just urges myself to come up with those saves."
And Hurricanes forward Jussi Jokinen took the lead back late in the period with a one-timer that saw Hurricanes center Eric Staal get an assist, extending his points streak to nine games.
Chicago goalie Cristobal Huet tried to corral the puck face first in the goal, a play that was reviewed, but the puck clearly crossed over the line.
The young, dangerous Kane had more opportunities later in the period, but Ward continued to deny him.
Ward kept up his play in the third period, and he needed to, when Chicago came close to scoring on several shifts, with a pair of close Hawks' chances reviewed to double-check that a goal wasn't scored.
And with 47 seconds left in the game and an empty Hawks' net, there was Ward, denying Kane with his pads one more time, maybe one of his best saves of the season at the end of a great week for the franchise goalie.
Kane tried to wait out the goalie in front of the net, but Ward had none of it.
"That was completely high end especially when you factor in how much time he had," Maurice said. "We're still questioning or interrogating our forwards and our [defense] as to why we would let that man in there alone but I think that just shows the confidence our players have in Cam Ward."
The Blackhawks (37-14-4), ending an eight-game road trip 5-3, have never beaten the Hurricanes at the RBC, their only road win against Carolina at the Greensboro Coliseum on Jan. 14, 1998.
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