There are no easy victories at this point in the NHL season, not for teams still hopeful of being in the playoffs.
The Carolina Hurricane weren’t always at their best Tuesday against the Philadelphia Flyers, chasing the puck in the first period, falling behind.
But the Canes found a way to win. Goalie Cam Ward had perhaps his best game of the season, making 36 saves, as Carolina emerged with a 3-1 victory at PNC Arena.
“We gutted it out and found a way to get two points,” Canes coach Bill Peters said.
Joakim Nordstrom and Jordan Staal scored in the second period as Staal’s line continued to be the Canes’ best, and Eric Staal picked up his first goal in 17 games in the third period.
Ward gave up an ugly goal to the Flyers’ Scott Laughton late in the first. But that only made the veteran more determined, more focused.
“Not a good goal but to be honest the two people driving to the net actually sprayed some snow up in my eyes, and it caught me off-guard,” Ward said of Laughton’s five-hole shot. “With my position, as much as you’d like to have it back you can’t, and you have to get ready for that next save. I was able to put it behind me and move on.”
The Canes (28-23-10) went into the game a point behind the New Jersey Devils and four points out of playoff position in the Eastern Conference. The Devils topped the New York Rangers 5-2 Tuesday to stay in front of Carolina, which has 66 points.
Ward was named the game’s first star and given the fireman’s helmet as the Canes’ MVP. While many had a hand in the victory — defenseman Justin Faulk returned from injury after missing six games — it was Ward who made the biggest difference.
Ward denied Laughton a second goal with a sharp glove save early in the second period, but the best was yet to come. On a two-on-one rush, Laughton made a crisp pass to Matt Read only to have Ward thrust across the crease and get his body in front of Read’s shot.
“He stole this game for us,” Peters said. “He allowed us to stay in the game and get our footing a little bit.”
Jordan Staal gave the Canes a 2-1 lead on an odd play. Brett Pesce’s pass off the end boards nicked a referee, the puck bounding into the slot where Staal pivoted and found the net for his 16th of the season, extending his point streak to six games.
Nordstrom had tied the score 1-1 in the second when Flyers goalie Michal Neuvirth left the net to play the puck, only to have a pass picked off by Nordstrom in the right circle. Nordstrom now has goals in the past three games and eight for the season.
Eric Staal’s struggles have been well-chronicled. The Canes captain has been distracted at times by persistent speculation that he might be moved before the NHL trade deadline on Monday.
But with about six minutes left in regulation, Jay McClement circled the net for a shot Neuvirth warded off with his stick. Staal, at the post, batted in the puck for his 10th goal and first since Jan. 12 against the Pittsburgh Penguins.
“He’s been snakebit for a while but it was nice to see him get a greasy Eric Staal goal,” Jordan Staal said.
The Flyers (26-22-11) had three overtime wins over the Canes this season. Shayne Gostisbehere, who had two of the OT winners, had a 15-game point streak — the longest ever for an NHL rookie defenseman — come to an end.
The Canes also killed off all three Flyers power plays, allowing three shots.
“There have been games where we’ve played great and not found a way to win,” Jordan Staal said. “This was a night where we didn’t have our best but we had some guys like ‘Wardo’ play unbelievable and found a way to get two points.”