The Carolina Hurricanes weren’t going to let the minor details tarnish Cam Ward’s first career goal — such as the fact that their All-Star goalie never even really took a shot.
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Ward made 23 saves and was credited with a bizarre empty-net goal that capped off the Hurricanes’ 4-2 win over the New Jersey Devils on Monday night.
”It would have been a lot cooler if I had shot the puck or did something like that,” Ward said with a smile.
Brandon Sutter had a short-handed goal, Tuomo Ruutu and Anthony Stewart scored in the second period, and Tim Gleason and Tim Brent each had two assists for the Hurricanes.
They had as many goals in the second (two) as New Jersey had shots while building a 3-0 lead, then withstood the Devils’ late charge to claim their second straight win.
But the play that had everyone buzzing afterward ended up as the first goal by a goalie in club history, and what the Hurricanes said was the first by any NHL goaltender since Nashville’s Chris Mason in 2006.
The Devils were scrambling near Ward and trying to tie the game, but Ilya Kovalchuk’s errant pass for Adam Henrique from the end line wound up going the length of the ice and into an empty net with 29.4 seconds left.
”I don’t know how to explain it. I should make better decisions that that, definitely,” Kovalchuk said. ”We find a way to make the game interesting and we were working hard, but a bad decision by me cost us the game.”
Officials initially awarded the goal to Sutter before a postgame review determined he never touched the puck.
”It was Wardo’s. As soon as it went in, I think we all knew it was his,” Sutter said. ”And then the ref kind of came up to me and asked what happened. He asked who touched it last, and it was (Ward).”
David Clarkson had a goal and an assist for New Jersey. He and Henrique scored in the third period and Johan Hedberg made 30 saves for the Devils, who had won seven of nine.
”No one’s going to feel sorry for us,” Hedberg said. ”We’ve just got to keep plugging away. Tonight, they probably deserved it more than we did.”
Clarkson broke up the shutout when he scored with 7:22 left. Henrique then pulled the Devils within 3-2 when he scored with 2:20 remaining before the odd sequence in the final minute.
Anton Volchenkov finished with two assists for New Jersey, which lost Ryan Carter to a game misconduct late in the first period for drilling Jaroslav Spacek hard into the end boards.
Carolina, in last place in the Southeast Division, has earned points in six of eight games.
”What I really like in the last six, seven games is that we’re a little bit more consistent,” new coach Kirk Muller said. ”We’re not beating ourselves, for the most part, and the points that we have given away are things that we’ve done.
"So the last couple games, we’ve done a better job of that, and we’ve been doing a lot of good things. We’re not quite there yet, but I think our confidence level’s starting to kick in, everyone’s starting to play a higher-tempo game and I think we’re skating better to play this type of tempo.”
Two of the best players in Devils history were behind Carolina’s bench. Muller and assistant John MacLean combined for 532 goals during their time on the ice in New Jersey.
The Devils sure could have used their offensive punch early in this one. Instead, for most of the way, it was the Hurricanes who showed off their firepower.
Ruutu pushed Carolina’s lead to 2-0 by scoring his team-leading 13th goal just over 7 minutes into the second. He chipped in a rebound past a sprawled-out Hedberg and into an open net. Stewart then made it a three-goal game 10 minutes later when his wrist shot from the circle got past Hedberg’s stick.
That came after Sutter scored the Hurricanes’ first goal midway through the first and 23 seconds into a tripping penalty on Ruutu.
Sutter chased down the puck near center ice and skated in on Hedberg before uncorking a wrist shot from the circle that clipped the left pipe on its way in. That gave the Hurricanes their seventh short-handed goal — tying them with the Devils for most in the NHL — and marked the league-worst 11th allowed by New Jersey.
”A bounce happens, a break happens,” Sutter said. ”When you get a chance to go, you’ve got to go.”
It could have been worse for the Devils, who held Carolina scoreless during a 5-on-3 advantage for 1:19, a sequence that included the misconduct and 5-minute boarding major on Carter. Drayson Bowman rang the left post moments after Stewart’s goal.