Canes, Ward blank the St. Louis Blues 2-0

calexander@newsobserver.comMarch 16, 2012 

— The Carolina Hurricanes don’t mind facing off against the NHL’s best, and they have held their own this season.

They swept the Boston Bruins, the defending Stanley Cup champions. They beat the Vancouver Canucks, who played the Bruins for the Cup last year, and the Pittsburgh Penguins. They shut out the Chicago Blackhawks.

On Thursday night, the Canes went head-to-head with the St. Louis Blues and came away with a 2-0 victory as goaltender Cam Ward won his 200th career game and notched his 20th career shutout.

“That’s a nice milestone and it’s a nice way to do it, too,” Carolina coach Kirk Muller said. “He was really strong tonight from start to finish. He had to work for it and it’s quite an accomplishment.”

Chad LaRose gave the Hurricanes (27-29-15) the lead with 7:52 left in regulation, finally finding a way to beat Blues goalie Brian Elliott, who was equally solid in net for most of the night. Jeff Skinner, a hard-charger in the offensive zone all game, scored his 20th of the season with less than three minutes to play.

But Ward was the game’s star. He was aggressive in net, challenging shots from the start and had 40 saves.

“We knew it would be a tough battle, but I thought we matched their intensity and matched their physicality,” Ward said.

The Blues (45-19-8) came into the newly named PNC Arena as the Western Conference leaders, with the most victories and points in the league. It’s a bruising team molded by Ken Hitchcock, who took over as coach in early November and has given the Blues the look of Stanley Cup contenders.

“It was definitely a grinding game,” LaRose said. “They’re a big team but I think we stood toe-to-toe and played a physical game ourselves.”

LaRose’s 15th goal of the season came after Andreas Nodl made a pass off the right boards to LaRose behind the Blues net. LaRose attempted a wraparound and the puck bounced off Blues defenseman Ian Cole and past Elliott.

“We were on the net all night,” LaRose said. “I kind of got a lucky bounce there. I just tried to stuff it and I got a good bounce.”

Skinner, who had six of the Canes’ 30 shots, manufactured his goal with a deft move. He lost control of the puck but kicked it with his skate to his stick blade and ripped a shot past Elliott.

Muller moved Skinner to the left side on Eric Staal’s line opposite Tuomo Ruutu and the line was consistently good. Skinner took a few rough hits in the game – the biggest from defenseman Barret Jackman early in the second – but kept his composure.

“I liked the energy and the competitive edge that he played with,” Muller said. “I thought he was very dangerous with the puck.”

Penalty killing was critical for the Canes, who were finally home after playing their past five games on the road. The Blues were 0-5 on the power play, and the Canes successfully killed off a double-minor against LaRose for high-sticking midway through the first.

“That four-minute penalty kill in the first period really set the momentum for our team,” Ward said.

Ward took it from there, albeit with some rugged play in front of him, in posting his fourth shutout of the season. The Blues pulled Elliott in the final minute for a sixth attacker but Ward would not be beaten.

“I felt relaxed,” Ward said.

And winning No. 200?

“It means a lot to me,” Ward said. “To be able to win 200 games with this organization is something I’m proud of, but I don’t want to stop now. Hopefully I can add another 200.”

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