SUNRISE, Fla. — Jamie McBain of the Carolina Hurricanes was on the ice Wednesday when the New York Rangers scored the winning goal in overtime, and he may have had the best view of it.
McBain, a rookie defenseman, went out to challenge Rangers forward Mats Zuccarello, only to have Zuccarello rifle a shot over McBain's left shoulder and into the top of the net for a 2-1 victory at Madison Square Garden. While the Canes (18-15-6) picked up a hard-earned point, losing always stings, especially when you're one of the guys on the ice who might have prevented it.
But another part of being a pro, of playing in the NHL, is letting go. Good or bad, win or loss, letting go. That's what McBain is quickly learning.
"You'll have games or streaks where you're not feeling right or you're not playing great," he said. "That's the way it goes. But you should stay level-headed and just continue to go out and play your best every night.
"You just have to have that mindset to shake things off, to never get too high and never get too low."
McBain had no sooner said that - a common player's refrain - than he conceded, "That's easier said than done."
In fact, it was hard for him to do earlier in the season. Expected to be a steady point producer from the blue line, the former University of Wisconsin standout wasn't producing many points at all. It wore on him.
McBain, 22, and rookie forward Jeff Skinner were two young players the Hurricanes were fully committed to playing from the start this season. Skinner, 18, got off to a quick start. McBain struggled a little.
"The points just weren't coming my way," he said.
But McBain said a personal turning point came during the Canes' two-game trip to Dallas and St. Louis for a back-to-back set on Dec. 10-11. He had a video session with the coaches, he said, and also something of a skull session, and it clicked.
"I was told to go out there and make sure I take care of my responsibilities in my end," he said. "As a defenseman that's the most important thing. Take care of my defensive responsibilities, and the points will come from there.
"That road trip, I just focused on my goal line out. From there, the points have come here and there."
On Dec. 15, McBain scored his first goal of the season, helping the Canes rally past the Florida Panthers 4-3 at BankAtlantic Center. In victories that followed, over Atlanta and Anaheim, he had an assist in each game.
In the 11 games since the Dallas/St. Louis trip, McBain has six points - the goal and five assists. In contrast, he had six assists in the first 28 games.
"Jamie is an incredibly poised young man for his age," defenseman Jay Harrison said. "He sees the ice extremely well. He has an incredible amount of patience, and he has an incredible amount of confidence in his game that allows him to make plays that guys his age have trouble making."
Canes coach Paul Maurice has shown more confidence in McBain in the last month. He paired him with Tim Gleason a recent game. McBain, who has a plus-5 rating, had a season-high 24 minutes of ice time Monday against the Panthers at the RBC Center.
In each of the past three games, McBain has gotten more than 21 minutes - a first for him this season. Part of that is the absence of defenseman Joni Pitkanen, a big minutes eater who is out with an upper-body injury, but part of it is McBain's better play.
"I love it," McBain said, smiling. "I love being one of the guys being counted on to play those big-time minutes. That's something I've always loved - being that player that the coach can turn to, whether it's every other shift, just knowing I'm ready to go.
"Physically I feel great. I'm really learning how to take care of my body."
McBain credits off-ice work with Canes trainer Pete Friesen with helping improve his strength and stamina. He also has followed a nutrition plan given to him by Friesen.
"I'm playing 82 games, which is different than the 35 or so in college," McBain said. "Nutrition is a big part of feeling good and being able to play those big-time minutes. I feel strong, I feel fresh."
Note: Justin Peters will start in goal tonight against the Florida Panthers, Maurice said Thursday. Cam Ward has started 16 of the past 17 games, and Maurice said, "Cam can't play every game."
Peters relieved Ward early in the Dec. 15 road game against the Panthers and was the winner as the Canes rallied for a 4-3 win.
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