A breakout day: Eric Staal, Cam Ward lead Canes to 4-1 win over Senators

calexander@newsobserver.comNovember 24, 2013 

— It was the kind of save that was posted on YouTube (see video below) in a matter of minutes and quickly drawing hits.

It was goalie Cam Ward of the Carolina Hurricanes, moving sharply to his right, lunging, getting his stick on a shot by Colin Greening of the Ottawa Senators.

While the Hurricanes would go on to a 4-1 win over the Senators on Sunday, while Eric Staal had a goal and two assists and everyone did their part, Ward's save was critical.

The Senators led 1-0 in the first period and had the early jump. Derek Grant got off a shot for Ottawa from the right wing that Ward stopped, but Greening was on the far side, ready to rip in the rebound.

But Ward would have none of it, and the Canes soon began to build momentum. A three-goal second period -- Patrick Dwyer, Tuomo Ruutu and Elias Lindholm scoring -- gave Carolina a nice cushion and Staal's empty-net goal late in regulation capped what Canes coach Kirk Muller said was Staal's "best game by far" this season.

"It's nice that the guys are finally getting results," Muller said after the Canes ended a four-game winless streak. "We've played some tough opponents lately and have been grinding it out. It's been difficult to get some goals. I think tonight things finally looked like they were clicking and falling in place."

Both teams played Saturday -- the Canes dropping a 3-2 overtime loss in Boston, and the Sens winning 4-2 in Detroit. Ward was back in net for the second straight day, as was Robin Lehner for Ottawa.

Jason Spezza's goal 67 seconds into the game gave the Sens (9-11-4) the lead, but it did not rattle Ward or deflate the Canes (9-10-5). Ward made 11 saves in the period, including the one on Greening a little more than five minutes into the first that went viral.

"Luckily I was able to get it," Ward said. "If that goes in it's a whole different hockey game, going down 2-0 in the first period. Fortunately I got that and we kept going and we played extremely well after that."

Dwyer tied the score three minutes into the second on a bullet of a shot from the right circle after some hard work by Jordan Staal and Justin Faulk, who also had two assists. Three minutes later, Ruutu took a crisp lead pass from Eric Staal for a quick-wrister to give Carolina the lead.

The Canes then added their second power-play goal in as many games. Eric Staal, strong on the puck, kept possession as he circled the net and found Lindholm open in the corner. The rookie skated in from the goal-line extended and went top-shelf on Lehner as the Canes' Jeff Skinner lurked at the far post.

"I think I surprised them," Lindholm said of his second career goal. "There was a lot of space."

Lindholm, the Canes' first-round draft pick this year, was recalled Friday from the Charlotte Checkers of the AHL. He has helped smooth out the power play, at least for two games.

Eric Staal hasn't had the kind of start he wanted this season -- perhaps understandable given his serious knee injury suffered in the World Championship in May. But he's looked quicker and stronger of late and has a six-game point streak (three goals, five assists).

"It was probably his hardest-working game," Muller said. "He worked really hard but he worked smartly. He used his wingers really well. He really led us up front. Everyone contributed but he was the real leader."

Muller switched up the lines, putting Ruutu and Nathan Gerbe on Staal's line. He also inserted defenseman Jay Harrison into the lineup for Tim Gleason.

Ward made his third start since returning from a groin injury. For the second straight game he had 35 saves, following up his strong effort in Boston.

There was a different twist -- a victory. For Ward, it was his first since Oct. 19 against the New York Islanders.

"That's why you play the game. You play to win," Ward said. "Tonight we got that good feeling in the locker room. Hopefully it's something we can build on."

Alexander: 919-829-8945 Twitter: @ice_chip

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