The Carolina Hurricanes came into Thursday night’s game riding a four-game winning streak, but a team affected by the winter weather that had crippled much of the country. Their Tuesday night game against the Buffalo Sabres was cancelled due to a polar vortex. What that means is the team spent close to 48 hours cooped up in a hotel in Buffalo. There were questions as to which team would take the ice against the visiting Toronto Maple Leafs. The team that has caught fire since their come-back New Years Eve win against Montreal or the team that would show signs of rust and have to battle against a struggling Toronto club.
The question was answered early in the first period. Carolina forward Zach Boychuck slipped a back-hand past Leafs goalie James Reimer. Jeff Skinner, of the Hurricanes, continued his career high point streak to 6 games when he picked a clean rebound past Reimer on the power play. The goal was Skinner’s 21st of the season and his 17th in the last 17 games. Jordan Staal, playing without his brother and Carolina captain Eric in the line-up for the second straight game, earned his 300th NHL point with the assist.
Toronto left winger Joffrey Lupul tried keeping the game within reach for the visiting Maple Leafs, when he muscled the puck past Carolina goalie Anton Khubodin. Carolina, however, kept their foot on the gas pedal and got out of the first period maintaining a two-goal lead when, minutes before the period ended, Patrick Dwyer beat James Reimer with a wrist shot.
Eight days ago these same two teams worked out a trade. Carolina sent assistant captain and veteran locker-room presence Tim Gleason to Toronto for John-Michael Liles and the rights to defenseman Dennis Robertson. Thursday nights game marked the return of the Hurricane fan favorite Gleason to Raleigh. Carolina got the better of the trade, as least as far as the game tonight went. Liles scored on a break-away for the only goal of the second period and lifted the Carolina lead to 4-1.
Toronto skated into the third period on a power play carried over from late in the second and desperate to play themselves back into the game. Assistant captain Jordan Staal ended that chance just 25 seconds into the period. Staal stole the puck, drove up ice, and netted Carolina’s league-leading eighth short-handed goal of the season, the first however, at home. Late in the period when Toronto captain Dion Phaneuf decided to take his frustrations out on Hurricane players, Carolina was on the power play again and again they took advantage of the extra skater. Elias Lindholm, in his first game back since being assigned to his native Sweden for the Word Juniors, picked up his fourth of the season. Assisting on the play was Jeff Skinner and Jordan Staal. For Staal, the four points earned tonight matches his career high, the last coming while still with the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Carolina left the arena and straight to the airport for a flight out to Columbus and a rematch with a Blue Jackets team they lost to on December 23rd.