TORONTO — The Carolina Hurricanes are finally coming home after a four-game, nine-day road trip, though Canada that at times seemed as if it was 99 days long.
It didn't help any that the trip ended in another loss.
The Toronto Maple Leafs won 2-1 in overtime Tuesday at Air Canada Centre, on Tim Connolly's second goal of the game. Connolly tipped in a rebound 44 seconds into the overtime to end it.
The Leafs (16-11-3) had taken a 1-0 lead on Connolly's first goal, with 4:14 left in regulation. But the Canes responded.
After Jiri Tlusty was high-sticked by the Leafs' Joffrey Lupul, a power-play goal by Alexei Ponikarovsky with 1:54 remaining tied the score 1-1 and appeared to give the Canes (9-18-5) needed momentum.
The Hurricanes played a second straight game without leading scorer Jeff Skinner, who has an undisclosed injury. Carolina general manager Jim Rutherford said Tuesday that Skinner would be evaluated by doctors today in Raleigh to determine when he can return and play.
Rutherford said Skinner had not been feeling well the past few days but that the team did not know the nature of the injury.
For much of the game, the Canes and Leafs went end to end, looking to take the lead. But the Canes' Cam Ward and the Leafs' James Reimer made all the stops they needed until the final minutes of the third.
Ward got more work than Reimer, who was making his fourth start since returning from a long absence caused by concussion-like symptoms. And it was important Ward got the work done after being pulled in two of the last three games.
In Friday's game in Winnipeg, Ward was benched during the second period of a 4-2 loss and had an angry outburst on the bench that was highly emotional and uncharacteristic. Ward said he would put it behind him and be ready for the Leafs, and he was.
It didn't take long for Ward to be tested. Four minutes into the game. the Leafs' Phil Kessel and Lupul had a two-on-one rush into the Carolina zone, but Ward smartly stopped Kessel's shot from the right circle.
"He gave us a chance to win tonight and that's all you can ask," Canes coach Kirk Muller said of Ward. "He was really strong, the strongest game I've seen him play since I've been here. "That's the Cam we know. If he plays like that we'll get some results to start working his way."The guys played hard tonight and took it right to the end. A lot of good things."
The Hurricanes killed off two Leafs power plays in the third period. Chad LaRose had a good shorthanded opportunity on the first penalty kill. But Reimer made the stop to keep the game scoreless.
Kessel, tied for the NHL lead with 18 goals, was a pest throughout the game, floating around in the offensive zone, looking to be the sniper. Lupul also was a threat but Ward was tested from several different angles and shooters.
Canes captain Eric Staal was at Tuesday's morning skate after returning from Raleigh, where his wife, Tanya, gave birth to the couple's second son on Sunday. Staal extended his point streak to four games with an assist on Ponikarovsky's goal.
"It would have been nice to end this trip with a 2-2 record," Staal said. "It was one of those games that was pretty close and could have gone either way."It didn't go our way, but we liked our compete and our work and 'Wardo' played well and can build off this game."
Staal said he was not surprised to see Ward rebound strongly after the Winnipeg debacle. "He's got so much God-given ability," Staal said. "He's one of those guys who puts a lot of pressure on himself personally. "It's been a tough year, not just for him but for a lot of people here. He just has to control what he can control and he did a good job of it tonight. I thought he was our best player and kept us in it."
"Everybody battled hard and it was a pretty fast game," Ponikarovsky said. "They got the tip-in but we fought back at the end and got the goal on the power play."It was a big effort from everybody. Great game by (Ward). We just have to keep battling and get through it."
Ponikarovsky said he believed the late Canes goal could provide a big boost going into overtime. "We worked as hard as we can to swing the momentum to our advantage," he said. "Today wasn't in our favor but we got a point out of it."
Ward had 13 saves in the opening period. The Canes had just five shots in the period and went on the power play just 27 seconds into the game after the Leafs' Cody Franson flipped the puck over the glass for a delay-of-game penalty.
Pat Dwyer had one offensive chance on the power play but Reimer stopped Dwyer's shot at the shortside post.
The Leafs' first-period power play came after Tuomo Ruutu was called for tripping. Ward had to make a nice pad save on a shot from Mikhail Grabovski.
After opening the trip with a 7-6 loss against the Calgary Flames, the Canes gave Muller his first win as coach Wednesday with 5-3 victory over the Edmonton Oilers. They lost Friday against the Winnipeg Jets.