RALEIGH — The Carolina Hurricanes will scatter in many directions today, taking time off for the NHL All-Star break.
Truth be told, many of the Canes probably would like to keep playing. The Hurricanes, in their final game before the break, topped the Winnipeg Jets 2-1 Monday at the RBC Center.
Goaltender Cam Ward again was standing-tall solid in net, Jeff Skinner and Tim Brent scored goals and the defense was gritty when it needed to be.
Though outshot 14-2 by the Jets in the final period, the Hurricanes gutted out a victory that ensured them a winning record for January. Carolina is 4-1-2 in its past seven games and 5-3-3 for the month.
"It's huge," Canes center Brandon Sutter said. "It obviously wasn't the prettiest game, but we found a way to win. A lot of times this year it's kind of been the games that went the other way. But it's nice, and now we're two points closer to where we want to chase in the last 30 games or so. We've played pretty well the last couple of weeks and I feel we're in a pretty good spot."
The Hurricanes (18-24-9) have 45 points and will have 31 games remaining in the regular season when they resume play against the New York Islanders next Tuesday at the RBC Center.
Only defenseman Justin Faulk will be participating in the All-Star activities this week in Ottawa, allowing the others - and coach Kirk Muller and his staff - a few days to rest and reflect and gear up for the final run. Ward should be ready. He now has gone nine straight games without allowing more than two goals after his 29-save game against the Jets (22-21-6).
"Tonight was a grind," Ward said. "The Jets definitely threw everything at us in the third period but we stuck with it."
Kyle Wellwood, who scored the only goal for Winnipeg in the second, had a quality chance from the slot with two minutes left in regulation but was high on his attempt. The Jets pulled Chris Mason in the final 85 seconds for an extra attacker and swarmed Ward but couldn't tie the score. Skinner missed 16 games because of a concussion, but he's back, scoring, playing center and being an offensive force.
Skinner scored for the second straight game, giving the Canes a 1-0 lead 3 minute, 55 seconds in. He attempted to pass on a two-and-one rush with winger Zac Dalpe, but the puck hit the skate of Jets defenseman Ron Hainsey and bounced back to Skinner, who roofed a shot past Mason for his 14th of the season. Skinner also made some hustling defensive plays, backchecking to get a stick on a shot by the Jets' Tanner Glass in the first period.
"I thought tonight was his best game coming back so far," Muller said. "He had better legs and made better decisions with the puck. He had a strong game and that's the way we need him to play going down the stretch."
Brent scored midway through the first for a 2-0 lead. After Anthony Stewart fought for the puck along the boards, Brent jumped on the loose puck and scored on a play that surprised Mason and himself. Brent said he was trying to quickly backhand a pass across the crease to Chad LaRose, only to have the puck hit Mason's foot and bank into the net.
"Sometimes in the season you wonder when the bounces are going to come your way and then we got two bounces tonight," Skinner said.
LaRose suffered a cut in the second period after a collision with the Jets' Chris Thorburn and did not return. Muller said he did not believe the cut was as serious as first feared, saying he was hopeful LaRose will be able to return after the break.
The Hurricanes still have a lot of work - and winning - to do to get in the playoff chase. But there's hope.
"I think we just need to try carry this over," Faulk said of the victory. "It's been good for us the last week or two here. We've been putting some pretty good games together."