RALEIGH, N.C. — Down their top two goalies and with their offensive stalwarts struggling, the Carolina Hurricanes (7-7-4) needed to find a way to win games.
It was all about playing what head coach Kirk Muller calls “the right way,” and doing the little things. Everything, in theory, should follow from that.
And during this five-game homestand, which concludes Friday, it has.
“I think (there’s) a lot of talk about us not scoring much right now and different stuff but we said, ‘Hey, we’ve got to have a foundation to build on and to bring in to every game right now,’ which is to play well without the puck,” Muller said.
Of all the wins and/or points the Hurricanes have piled up during this 3-0-1 stretch at PNC Arena, perhaps the most improbable came tonight against the Colorado Avalanche (14-3-0).
The Avalanche came into the game as one of the highest-scoring teams in the league, but the Hurricanes held them to five first-period shots and one goal in a 2-1 victory.
Jordan Staal, who’s had some struggles lately, scored 12:47 into the first period to give Carolina a 1-0 lead and Patrick Dwyer scored his first goal of the season just 26 seconds into the second period to put the Hurricanes up 2-0.
“We were feeling good. We’ve had our battles,” Dwyer said of the top line. “We had a good training camp as a line and we were going well and we all kind of hit a rough patch there but tonight I think we got it back. We were moving well. We were fast. We were quick. We were in on it. We knew where each other were tonight and hopefully we can build off that.”
The Avalanche were at their most active in the second period, taking 19 of their 34 shots, but third-string goalie Justin Peters turned away 18 of them (33 for the game).
After Peters was forced into action against Minnesota a few weeks ago, the Hurricanes went on a five-game skid. But since the five-game homestand began, he’s been settling in to his starting role nicely.
And he’s a guy his teammates love.
“Really, I think a lot of people are happy for him because he’s a great team guy. He works hard,” Muller said. “He said to me in this camp, hey, I worked hard this summer to get ready for this year. Things happened. He didn’t get that opportunity. Then, again, injuries kicked in and now he does.
“He starts off a little rough and he stuck with it, and I think that’s a tribute to him and his mental toughness that he’s turned the corner, and he’s showing that he can win now. That’s all from a real hard compete level, and I think the players really want to play for him because he’s such a good guy. I think everyone’s really happy to see him progress and find ways to win hockey games.”
Peters, though, gave credit to his teammates.
“We’re playing as a unit of five on the ice each time, coming back, protecting the house,” Peters said. “My job is just to make the first save and the boys are doing the rest.”
Protecting the house, according to Muller, is the area in front of the net. That is a team effort, and the team knew they’d have to be on their game defensively to contain this hot Avalanche squad. They were.
But big picture, this streak of success for the ‘Canes is huge as the team is trying to slowly rebuild its confidence.
They’ve struggled so much in close games, getting points here and there but not finding a way to finish, that winning a game like this one is important going forward.
“As a team, we want to build that identity. We know the goals are going to come and so we want to be able to win those tight games and we want to be able to rely on our foundation, our defense and sticking to the process so that the nights when we’re not putting up 4-5, we can still get the wins,” Peters said.
Really, though, any win is big. That five-game skid was costly as the Hurricanes try to keep their collective head above water.
The season could have gone downhill in a hurry, but right now, the Hurricanes are still right on track as they’re getting healthier at a good time.
“It’s important. We’re 3-0-1 stretch after a bad stretch,” defenseman Ron Hainsey said. “This was a situation for us where if we didn’t put some wins together, we’d find ourselves 20 games in in a little bit of trouble. So it was important, the whole home stretch and we’ve got one more still obviously — but it’s important against a team that (was) 14-0-2, you’ll take it.”