RALEIGH — A preseason exhibition game against the Atlanta Thrashers, and the Carolina Hurricanes' veteran goaltender says he has goosebumps?
That's what the Carolina Hurricanes' goaltender said Friday after a 2-1 overtime victory over the Thrashers, before a roaring home crowd of 15,787 at the RBC Center. The win served as a good-vibes sendoff for the Canes' trip to Europe.
Brandon Sutter's second goal of the game, at 1:06 of overtime, was the winner. It came off the rush, on a perfect setup pass from Erik Cole, as the Canes bounced back after allowing Atlanta to tie the score 1-1 on a Nik Antropov goal with 1:03 left in regulation.
And the Thrashers, 0-5 this preseason, would have won it in overtime had it not been for Ward. Atlanta's Bryan Little had an open net before Ward went sprawling from left to right and stopped Little's attempt by double-stacking his pads, the last of his 30 saves.
"Exhibition game or not an exhibition game, you play to win," Ward said. "This sure felt like a regular-season game. The Hurricanes fans made it feel like a regular-season atmosphere. It definitely gave me goosebumps, and probably everybody else.
"We wanted to make sure we left here on a positive note and show the fans what we're capable of, because it will be a long time before we're back here again."
That will be Oct. 27. That's when the Hurricanes return to the RBC Center to face the Washington Capitals after playing the first seven games of the regular season away from Raleigh.
The Canes were scheduled to fly Friday night to St. Petersburg, Russia, where they will take on SKA St. Petersburg of the Kontinental Hockey League in one last exhibition game.
Some exhibition: The Monday game is being promoted in Russia as something akin to an NHL-KHL showdown.
"I think they're pretty psyched up about it over there," Sutter said.
The Hurricanes then begin the regular season with games Thursday and Friday against the Minnesota Wild in Helsinki, Finland. (In total, six NHL teams will open the season in three different European cities as part of what the NHL is calling its "Premiere Games.") Upon returning to North America, Carolina has a five-game road trip that takes them into Canada and then to the West Coast.
But the Canes (3-2 preseason) left believing they've done nearly all they needed to do to prepare for both a new season and life on the road. They've tinkered with line combinations and defensive pairings and put in work on the power play.
The Hurricanes' first goal Friday came on the power play, on a Sutter deflection of a Joe Corvo shot from the blue line late in the second period. That came after rookie forward Jeff Skinner drew a holding penalty on Antropov with a strong move along the boards to give Carolina the man advantage.
"I think through the first five [preseason] games, we've been pretty good," Sutter said. "I think it was good for our team to play in front of a big crowd. There was a lot of energy in the building."
Ward gave up three goals in a span of 1:54 in the Canes' preseason opener, as the Florida Panthers won 4-1 at the RBC Center. But he shut out the Thrashers 1-0 with 32 saves on Saturday in Atlanta and backed it up with another strong game Friday - the Thrashers' goal came with an sixth attacker.
"I think I've gotten a lot of work, and I have felt comfortable in these last couple of games," Ward said. "Hopefully it's just a sign of things to come, and we'll continue to get better as a team and peak when we play Minnesota."
That's what Canes coach Paul Maurice is hoping for: his team playing its best in Finland.
"There's still a couple of line combinations we're not real comfortable with," Maurice said. "But I think with the structure, the basics, we're there."
And now gone for a long time.
HURRICANES 2, THRASHERS 1
First--None. Penalties--LaRose, Car (hooking), 2:25; Pitkanen, Car (holding), 7:54; Kulda, Atl (tripping), 10:54.
Second--1, Carolina, Sutter 1 (Corvo, Pitkanen), 15:13 (pp). Penalties--Kulda, Atl (holding), 1:57; Carson, Car (tripping), 8:17; Antropov, Atl (holding), 14:14.
Third--2, Atlanta, Antropov 1 (Little, Thorburn), 18:57. Penalties--Kane, Atl (tripping), 7:47.
Overtime--3, Carolina, Sutter 2 (Cole, McBain), 1:06.
Shots on goal--Atlanta 10-8-11-2--31. Carolina 12-8-9-1--30. Power-play opportunities--Atlanta 0 of 3; Carolina 1 of 4. Goalies--Atlanta, Pavelec 0-2-1 (30 shots-28 saves). Carolina, Ward 2-1-0 (31-30).
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