Few teams in the NHL have been playing better the past month or so than the San Jose Sharks.
To beat the Sharks, a team has to have good pace and physicality, attacking offensively but also staying sound defensively. Good goaltending also is a must.
The Carolina Hurricanes had all that Friday at PNC Arena, topping the Sharks 5-2 as Jeff Skinner scored twice and goalie Cam Ward returned from injury to play smoothly in net.
Chris Terry and Joakim Nordstrom also scored for the Canes (27-22-10), who pulled back within two points of playoff position in the Eastern Conference. Jordan Staal, again the Canes’ workhorse in the middle, had an empty-net goal and an assist, and now has 10 points in his last seven games.
That was enough for Ward, who played with a calmness in net, had 22 saves and — barring a trade — will be relied on heavily in the stretch run of the season.
“They’re a strong team on the road, and at home, to be honest,” Ward said of the Sharks, who had 20 road victories. “But we feel strongly about our group and hopefully we can continue the strong play.”
Skinner picked up his 20th and 21st goals of the season, both in the third period. The first came on a power play 39 seconds into the period — after Canes coach Bill Peters won a coach’s challenge — and the second when Skinner scored off a rebound for a 4-2 lead at 15 minutes, 32 seconds of the third.
Both teams had road games Thursday — the Canes losing 4-2 in Ottawa and the Sharks edging the Florida Panthers 2-1 in a shootout to run their record to 13-2-3 since Jan 7.
“It was a level playing field and we came prepared and ready to go, and it showed,” Ward said.
Ward suffered a lower-body injury Saturday against the New York Islanders and was relieved by Eddie Lack, who started at Ottawa. But Peters said Friday, “We’re going to ride a guy and it’ll be Cam.”
Skinner’s first score, his seventh game-winner of the season, came after the goal was initially waved off. Eric Staal got off a shot in close, then whacked at the puck as he passed in front of the crease and goalie Martin Jones. Skinner collected it at the post and nudged it in.
The ruling was incidental goaltender contact by Staal — no goal. Peters challenged it, and with Canes fans chanting “Goal, goal” the call was reviewed and overturned.
“I actually never touched him and was confused as to what it wasn’t going to count,” Staal said, smiling. “I’m glad it was overturned because it was a big goal for us, giving us a two-goal lead.”
Terry scored on a tip in the first period, but the Sharks (31-21-5) tied it 1-1 on a blast from the slot by defenseman Brent Burns. Nordstrom’s goal in the second period, off a Jordan Staal pass, came from almost the same spot on the ice and pushed the Canes ahead.
In the final seconds of the second, Jordan Staal was fighting for the puck in the San Jose zone when Sharks forward Mike Brown suddenly jumped him. Brown was called for holding and unsportsmanlike conduct while Staal picked up a roughing penalty with 20 seconds left.
After Skinner’s power-play goal, the Sharks took advantage of a misplay by Ward to pull within 3-2. Ward left the crease to play the puck behind the net, but Patrick Marleau swiped it from him and passed to an open Tomas Hertl in front for a tap-in.
Skinner’s second goal eased the tension for the Canes and Ward had some nice stops among his 11 third-period saves.
“The way the standings are and the way teams keep putting up points and wins you have to stay with the pack if you expect to be in the playoffs,” Eric Staal said. “We know what our challenge is.”