Skinner’s goal lifts Hurricanes to 2-1 win over Predators

calexander@newsobserver.comJanuary 5, 2014 

— Carolina Hurricanes goalie Anton Khudobin spent two and half months this season recovering from an ankle injury, and became so bored he started playing with Legos.

Khudobin said Sunday he once built a truck out of Legos, saying it took him 12 hours to complete.

But Khudobin has put the toys away and is back to playing games, and now is a big part of the Hurricanes building a four-game winning streak. Making his third straight start, Khudobin had 31 saves as the Canes outfought the Nashville Predators 2-1 at PNC Arena.

Jeff Skinner and Alexander Semin provided the goals for the Canes (18-16-9), who played without injured captain Eric Staal for the first time in 191 games. Skinner’s goal, on a shot from the right circle with three minutes, 31 seconds left in regulation, was the winner and his 20th of the season.

“He keeps on ticking,” Canes coach Kirk Muller said of Skinner. “As I said before, he’s scoring but he’s really scoring clutch goals.”

Skinner, who was used at center with Staal out, was hit by a flying puck late in the second period and taken to the dressing room. He returned to start the third with a puffy upper lip but scored his 16th goal in the past 16 games off a pass from Tuomo Ruutu, who had two assists.

Semin scored early in the game, banging the puck off the backside of Predators goalie Carter Hutton and into the net for his sixth goal of the season.

For a long stretch, it appeared Semin’s goal might be the only goal. Khudobin was turning back shot after shot, just as he did in 38-save wins over the Washington Capitals on Thursday and the New York Islanders on Saturday. Hutton, making his first start since Dec. 27, also was solid.

Khudobin’s start against the Caps was his first for the Canes since Oct.  13, when he turned his ankle against the Phoenix Coyotes. Muller decided to use him again against the Isles, then told him late Saturday night that he would get another start Sunday.

“Momentum is a big thing,” Muller said. “He’s been playing well so we just went for it. He’s had lots of free time this season so he should be fresh.”

The Preds’ only goal came on Patric Hornqvist’s power-play score almost seven minutes into the third. Hornqvist muscled in the puck at the post and the Canes claimed he kicked it in, but the play was reviewed and the goal upheld.

In a repeat of the Canes’ 3-2 win over the Islanders, it was frantic in the final few minutes. The Preds (18-19-6) pulled Hutton for an extra attacker and swarmed about Khudobin, and forward Craig Smith had two missed shots that were wide of the net.

So ended a gritty game that was about fighting for pucks along the boards, taking hits to make plays, backchecking with a purpose and battles in front of the crease. The Canes recalled forward Aaron Palushaj from the Charlotte Checkers of the AHL on Sunday and he was a part of a fourth line along with Brett Sutter and Zach Boychuk that hustled and did its part in the victory.

“It probably wasn’t our best game. It was an alright game,” Ruutu said. “We found a way to win.”

Staal, who had to leave the Islanders game with a lower-body injury, may be out another five or six days, Muller said.

“Guys that we needed to score for us in a grinding type game … came through for us,” Muller said. “We knew it would be this type of game.”

Skinner was hit in the face with about two minutes left in the second period, saying the puck hit his visor, then his lip. At that point, he believed it may not be his night.

Turns out, it was – for him and the Canes. And Khudobin.

“We’ve been consistent in our game, solid for all 60 minutes,” Skinner said. “And ‘Dobs’ has been playing well for us, making some huge saves.”

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