RALEIGH — For nearly 57 minutes Saturday, it appeared the top story lines for the Carolina Hurricanes would be Eric Staal scoring another hat trick and another stellar game in goal by Cam Ward.
You know, the standard stuff.
And then things went a little haywire.
The Hurricanes ended up holding off the Anaheim Ducks 4-2 at the RBC Center, pushing their winning streak to four games, but only after a frenetic final three minutes of regulation.
Staal had his three goals by 1:41 into the second period, causing the hats to fly, and Ward was stopping everything the Ducks sent at him after an early goal by Ryan Getzlaf. The Canes (15-12-4) had a 3-1 lead and Canes fans roaring as Ward made super save after super save.
But then Canes defenseman Joe Corvo and Ducks forward Corey Perry chased after and fought for the puck in the Carolina zone. Corvo whacked Perry in the chest and head a few times before finally being called for roughing with 3:01 left.
Fourteen seconds later, the Canes' Brandon Sutter was penalized for closing his hand on the puck after losing his stick. That was two in the penalty box. Another 16 seconds passed and Staal was penalized for cross-checking. Make it three in the box.
The Ducks then pulled goalie Jonas Hiller and it was a 6-on-3. Getzlaf scored with 1:48 left to cut the lead to 3-2, but Ward stopped Saku Koivu with a tremendous glove save with 1:02 remaining.
"We got great goaltending but we really shouldn't have needed it, but we did," Hurricanes coach Paul Maurice said. "... I thought our defense played really hard and really well. I though the forwards were really good in spurts."
The Hurricanes' penalty killers kept hustling and Corvo, out of the box, flipped the puck down the ice and into an empty net with 4.7 seconds to play. That earned him a big hit from the Ducks' Bobby Ryan at center ice and a melee briefly ensued.
"I'm still irritated," Staal said after the game. "We have a great goalie. We have some good players on defense who paid the price and it got us a win."
The Ducks unloaded 19 shots in the third period, but Ward was calm in net. He finished with 43 saves - that after his 45-save game Thursday in a 3-2 shootout win over the Atlanta Thrashers.
"He's one of the best in the league," Staal said. "That save on Koivu was huge, to keep it 3-2. We take him for granted some nights but he was big tonight for us."
Ward smiled when asked how much he practices a 6-on-3 situation.
"The calls are made and there's nothing you can do about it," Ward said. "You just have to deal with it.
"Our penalty kill has come up huge for us a majority of the season. A 3-1 lead and facing a 6-on-3, it's a tough task but we battled hard, knowing the game was on the line and we were able to hold on."
Staal had a pair of power-play goals in the first period after Getzlaf's goal. He then added an even-strength goal early in the second to complete his 12th career hat trick and his second of the season.
Staal's third goal came at even strength after a strong start to the second period by the Hurricanes.
After Sutter's line kept the puck in play in the Ducks' zone, Staal's line took over and did the same. Jeff Skinner centered a pass from the right circle that hit the skate of a Ducks defender but went to Erik Cole, positioned to Hiller's right.
Cole made a nifty little pass, Staal deposited the puck in the net at 1:41 for a 3-1 lead and the hats were flying.
"We would have preferred if he had got four," Maurice joked.
"Don't underestimate how seriously he takes the mantle of leader and offensive [scoring] guy. He gets one early in a game and feels like he's making a difference here and it feeds him," Maurice added. "He really takes that very seriously and I think it goes the other way when he struggles a little bit. He takes it very personally. I think people need to know that. He carries it very heavily."
Not that the game was over at that point. The Ducks, in the midst of playing seven straight road games, began to press into the Carolina zone and forced Hurricanes penalties.
Then, the final three minutes.
"I liked our first period tonight and I liked right up to the 10-minute mark of the second period," Maurice said. "And then we took five or six penalties in a row that really put us on our heels.
Canes defenseman Jay Harrison returned after missing two games with an upper-body injury.
Forward Zach Boychuk, called up from the Charlotte Checkers of the AHL after an injury to Jiri Tlusty, played his first game with the Canes this season.
Turns out, the Canes needed them all.
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