The fireman’s helmet sat in the seat at Andrej Sekera’s locker Tuesday night at PNC Arena, although the Carolina Hurricanes defenseman was not to be seen.
It’s possible Sekera was getting some medical attention, Canes coach Bill Peters said. Sekera was the one who put his body in the way of a shot by Nashville’s James Neal in the final seconds, preserving the Canes’ 2-1 victory against the Predators.
That’s what it took this night to win. It was a tough, grinding, hard-checking game, with two hot goaltenders in net and open ice hard to come by.
In the final minute, the Predators had a six-on-four advantage on their only power play of the game, pulling goalie Pekka Rinne for an extra attacker. But Canes goalie Cam Ward stopped shots by Roman Josi, Shea Weber and Filip Forsberg. The Canes battled in front of Ward.
Finally, Sekera blocked Neal’s shot from the right wing with two seconds left, earning the fireman’s helmet, the team award given after victories.
“Winning hurts, right?” Peters said. “You need those types of plays. You’ve got to find shooting lanes, you’ve got to be willing to pay a price.
“And it’s worth it. That’s the beautiful thing in sport. It’s hard work, and you have to pay the price. That’s what it’s all about, finding ways to win.”
The Canes (8-13-3) won with Ward making 32 saves and outdueling Rinne, arguably the NHL’s best goalie this season. They won with winger Jeff Skinner scoring the first goal late in the first period and later assisting on a goal by center Victor Rask early in the third.
The Canes held the 2-0 lead until Mike Ribeiro scored for the Predators (16-6-2) with four minutes, 46 seconds left in regulation, after the Canes failed to clear their zone. The tension then built as Carolina’s Riley Nash was called for tripping with one minute remaining.
But Ward was calm in net, and the Hurricanes dug in, getting sticks on pucks and pulling out a victory in the second game of an important five-game homestand.
Ward said Skinner scoring the first goal, on a deflection with 61 seconds left in the first, was critical. And especially against Rinne, who has been the winner in all of the Predators’ victories and came into the game with a 1.82 goals-against average.
“They have one of the top goaltenders, and they play a very sound, structured game,” Ward said. “They don’t give you much.”
Neither team did. The defensemen for both teams closed gaps while the forwards were effective with back-checks.
“It’s a quick team over there, and it was a good pace to the game,” Skinner said. “Our D-men did a great job playing fast and obviously (Ward) was huge for us, especially at the end.”
Skinner, who has had some big games against Nashville, scored his sixth of the season off a nice pass from Andrej Nestrasil. In the third, Skinner swiped the puck in the defensive zone and made a cross-ice pass to Rask, who unloaded a shot from the left wing that glanced off the stick of Josi.
“It wasn’t the prettiest goal, but it counts,” Rask said, smiling.
The Canes had lost their past four one-goal games, including a 3-2 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins on Saturday to begin the homestand. Nashville, under first-year coach Peter Laviolette, was 11-3-2 in one-goal games and brought a four-game win streak overall to PNC Arena.
The first two periods were played at even strength, with no penalties called. The Canes had two power plays in the third, and the Preds had their chance late.
In their past three games, the Canes have beaten the Penguins in Pittsburgh and now the Predators, the Central Division leaders.
“It’s a confidence booster,” Ward said. “We realize we’ve always got to play like that. It’s a consistency thing. But we can feel real happy about tonight.”