Hanifin’s late OT goal gives Hurricanes victory
RALEIGH, N.C. — It’s premature to suggest Cam Ward is winding down his career. It would be accurate to say the Carolina goalie is adjusting to a new role for the first time since his rookie season of 2006. So far, Ward is passing the test.
Noah Hanifin scored with two seconds left in overtime and Ward stopped 37 shots to move within one victory of 300 for his career as the Carolina Hurricanes defeated the Florida Panthers 3-2 on Saturday night.
Entering his 13th season, Ward was relegated to a backup role with the offseason signing of Scott Darling from Chicago and was making just his seventh start of the season - and the 618th of his career.
“Something I’m adjusting to is not playing as much and my last outing wasn’t very good, so you have to sit there and try to be patient and wait for the next opportunity, something that I’ve not really had to deal with in my career,” Ward said. “But I’ve been in this league long enough that I can turn the page.”
Carolina (11-9-5), which was 1-3-1 in its last five games, had the majority of the good chances in the extra period before Hanifin, a defenseman, scored his fifth of the season. The fifth overall pick in the 2015 draft had a combined eight goals his first two seasons in the league but now appears to be breaking out offensively.
“Just confidence is the biggest thing,” Hanifin said about his offensive numbers this season that also include nine assists as he has begun quarterbacking the team’s power play. “In this league, everybody has talent, everybody is good, and now coming into my third year I’m a lot more confident in my game, and going out and doing what I’m supposed to do.”
“Noah is a young guy who is becoming a young man,” Carolina coach Bill Peters said of the 20-year-old Hanifin, who had seven of his team’s 47 shots. “He’s getting into that magical 240-game number and you’re watching him just soar.
“He has a lot of upside and the ceiling is very high for him. He really skated tonight. He works at it, he loves the game and he wants to be elite.”
Jeff Skinner’s team-leading 10th goal of the season midway through the third period gave Carolina a 2-1 lead and snapped Skinner’s eight-game streak without a goal after he registered nine over a 15-game span. He led the Hurricanes with nine shots.
“That’s an elite, elite play,” Peters said of the Skinner goal. “He hunts pucks, he stays on pucks, he’s hungry to score and had a lot of good chances. He pays a price in there, too.”
Aleksander Barkov scored his ninth goal of the season with 1:56 left, seconds after the Panthers had pulled goalie James Reimer for an extra attacker.
Florida (10-13-3) had some recent success on the road, beating New Jersey and the New York Rangers in a two-day span, but has scored only three goals in its last two losses. The Panthers were outshot in OT 7-1.
“It was a heartbreaker with two seconds to go,” Florida coach Bob Boughner said. “Everybody knows our team is a pretty good shootout team and I would have liked to see it get there.”
Ward, the 2006 Conn Smythe Trophy winner, needs one victory to become the 32nd goalie in NHL history with 300. All of Ward’s victories have come as a member of the Hurricanes.
“It was a gutsy effort,” Ward said. “The energy in the building was outstanding and I felt we feed off of it. It was a game that got a little chippy and I’m proud of our guys for sticking up for one another and having that mentality that if someone messes with one of us they’re going to have to mess with all of us.”
Florida managed only four first-period shots, spending much of the period trying to kill off three penalties. Carolina managed to break through on its third man-advantage opportunity with six minutes left in the period when Elias Lindholm tipped in a shot from Sebastian Aho that found its way under the arm of Reimer, who stopped 38 shots in regulation.
Aho’s assist snapped a four-game pointless streak after he had posted 10 points during a five-game stretch.
Florida rebounded with a strong second period, registering 20 shots on goal, but the Panthers still couldn’t solve Ward until early in the third when Nick Bjugstad scored his sixth of the season from in close with 15:08 left to tie it 1-1.
NOTES: Florida D Keith Yandle played in his 660th consecutive game. ... Carolina improved to 33-10-4 at home against Florida since the 1999-2000 season. ... The Hurricanes will embark on a season-long six-game road trip, starting with Vancouver on Tuesday night. ... Florida failed to score in the first period and its 17 goals in the opening period are tied for third worst in the NHL. ... Carolina came into the game as the only NHL team with no fighting majors, but had two in the first two periods with LW Brock McGinn and D Noah Hanifin dropping the gloves. The fights mark a franchise record for the longest the team had gone into a season without a fighting penalty (2015-16, 20th game).