RALEIGH — Just minutes after the Carolina Hurricanes beat the Ottawa Senators on Saturday, Tuomo Ruutu was a man on the move.
Dressed in shorts and a T-shirt, the Canes forward appeared a bit restless. There was more work to be done, in the weight room or on the bike or stretching. Something.
The Columbus Blue Jackets would be coming to PNC Arena on Monday in the Canes’ fourth game in six days. It shapes up as an important Metropolitan Division matchup with so many teams so tightly squeezed together in the standings.
“We’ve just got to keep going and catch some teams,” Ruutu said.
After the 6-3 win against the Sens, the Canes were fifth in the division with 55 points. The Blue Jackets, who had an eight-game win streak snapped Saturday by the Buffalo Sabres, were third with 56 points.
Ruutu’s power-play goal against the Sens gave the Canes a 5-2 lead in a wild second period. Less than two minutes after Ottawa’s Kyle Turris scored a shorthanded goal, Ruutu jumped over the boards and powered a shot past Sens goalie Robin Lehner from the right wing.
Teams always talk about the need for secondary scoring. Ruutu was a winger on the fourth line centered by Riley Nash, who also scored. The Canes’ third line – center Manny Malhotra and wingers Nathan Gerbe and Drayson Bowman – combined for three goals and five assists.
“Nowadays in the National Hockey League, in the regular season and especially in the playoffs, the teams that do well and win the Stanley Cup all have four good lines and two good goalies,” Ruutu said.
Ruutu had almost 10 minutes of ice time and made the most of it, getting in five hits. Each rattled the boards and had Canes fans loudly chanting, “Ruuu.”
“That was his best game of the year,” Canes coach Kirk Muller said. “That’s the way he plays, with energy. He finishes his checks, creates turnovers.
“We said when you’re not scoring the first thing you have to do is shoot the puck. Get a little selfish. … He had that two-on-one and he shot and he did (score). That’s how it starts.”
In the game Wednesday at Philadelphia, Ruutu got off two shots and had two hits on his first shift. He didn’t score in the Canes’ 3-2 win against the Flyers but made his presence known.
“He’s raised his level of competition,” Muller said. “He’s just got to keep it simple. He’s a simple player but he works hard. It was really good to see him get that goal and get a different result.”
Ruutu, 30, played just one third-period shift in the Jan. 19 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning and had a season-low 6:48 in ice time. By the next game, he was on the fourth line. General manager Jim Rutherford talked last week of how Ruutu, who was named to Finland’s Olympic team for the 2014 Sochi Games, was feeling the pressure to perform.
“He knows he’s not at the top of his game right now, but he’s a good player and a good person and I feel he will get it going,” Rutherford said.
Ruutu, who leads the Canes with 138 hits, finished with four shots and seven hits in the Flyers game. He had an assist in the 5-3 win Thursday at Buffalo, and his goal against Ottawa was his fifth of the season as the Canes won their third in a row.
Asked if he feels his game is coming back around, he shrugged.
“I don’t know. I just try to go game by game,” Ruutu said Saturday. “That’s all I can think about. If it’s coming or if I can play better or worse … I don’t know.
“I just try to do my best every game, and see where I’m at and where the team is at the end of the season. Hopefully we’re in the playoffs battling for the Stanley Cup. That’s my goal. But, game by game.”
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