Winning games isn’t an easy thing to do in the National Hockey League.
After six straight losses, the Carolina Hurricanes again enjoyed the winning feeling Thursday night. And worked very hard for it.
The Canes topped the Toronto Maple Leafs 4-1 at PNC Arena, again getting stellar goaltending from Cam Ward and doing all the little but necessary things needed to win.
Chris Terry’s even-strength goal in the first period gave the Canes a 1-0 lead. That was important.
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Justin Faulk had a shorthanded goal later in the first to push the lead to 2-0. That was timely.
Andrej Sekera then scored a power-play goal in the third period. That was needed, coming with the Canes clinging to a 2-1 lead.
When Elias Lindholm added a late empty-netter to seal it, the Canes (9-19-3) finally could celebrate. Ward, who had 25 saves, was given the fireman’s helmet – from Sekera – as the MVP.
“It hasn’t been going our way lately, but tonight you could sense a little more confidence and a belief that good things were going to go our way,” Ward said. “To get that winning atmosphere in the locker room again is a lot of fun.”
Dion Phaneuf scored for the Leafs (19-10-3) with a little more than three minutes left in the second period. Toronto came into PNC Arena with a six-game winning streak and leading the NHL in scoring.
When the Canes’ Eric Staal was called for hooking with about 12 minutes left in regulation, the Leafs had a power play and an opportunity to tie. “They were coming,” Canes coach Bill Peters said.
But Toronto’s Cody Franson was called for interference after a collision with Nathan Gerbe, and Sekera scored his first of the season off a Faulk pass with eight minutes, 55 seconds left in the third.
“I’m more happy about the win than the goal,” Sekera said. “As long we’re winning I’m happy, and nobody was happy the past couple of games.”
A few hours before the game, the Canes learned that defenseman Jay Harrison had been traded to Winnipeg for a sixth-round pick in the 2015 NHL draft. Harrison, 32, was popular with his teammates, but the trade didn’t affect the Canes’ focus.
The Canes had not scored more than one goal since a 2-1 victory against Nashville on Dec. 2, scoring just once in each of the six losses. Faulk’s goal ended that drought and was his second shorthanded goal of the season, making him the first Canes defenseman to score two since Mike Commodore in 2006-2007.
Faulk finished off a two-on-one rush with Patrick Dwyer, smacking the puck past Leafs goalie Jonathan Bernier with six minutes, 17 seconds left in the first period.
“I was just trying to keep up with (Dwyer),” Faulk said, smiling. “He can skate pretty quick.”
Terry’s goal at 11:54 of the first came after Staal, who had two assists, won a faceoff in the Toronto zone. Staal later controlled the puck behind the net and centered it to Terry in front.
“It’s huge in this league, playing with the lead,” Peters said.
The Canes were able to effectively muzzle the Leafs’ line of Phil Kessel, Tyler Bozak and James van Riemsdyk that has been so potent. Ward made key saves against van Riemsdyk and then Kessel, who has 17 goals, in the second period.
Carolina outshot the Leafs 37-26 and had a decisive 46-22 edge on faceoffs. Jay McClement, who played for the Leafs the past two seasons, won 16 of 19 draws for the Canes.
All in all, it was just what the Canes were hoping for – pucks in the net and solid defense to go with another good game from Ward.
“You obviously like to win,” Faulk said. “There’s a better feeling in the room, on the bench, everywhere. We were ready to go from the beginning.”