TORONTO (AP) -With the NHL trade deadline looming, the Carolina Hurricanes did a better job than the Toronto Maple Leafs of putting the distractions aside.
Chad LaRose had a goal and two assists, Justin Peters stopped 32 shots and the Hurricanes beat the Maple Leafs 5-1 Tuesday night in the teams' first game since the break for the Vancouver Olympics.
The game took on a different tone before the opening faceoff as Maple Leafs forward Alexei Ponikarovsky sat out amidst reports general manager Brian Burke had a deal in place with the Pittsburgh Penguins.
After the game the Penguins confirmed they had acquired Ponikarovsky in exchange for defenseman Martin Skoula and prospect Luca Caputi.
Toronto center John Mitchell, who scored his team's only goal of the game, said prior to the deal becoming official that Ponikarovsky's status had no impact on the Maple Leafs' performance.
``I don't think you should look at Pony and where he goes as a distraction,' Mitchell said. ``We're all professionals here and we have to go out and play. We know what's at stake, especially on a day like this. We shouldn't be distracted by that, but maybe some guys are.'
Tuomo Ruutu, Brandon Sutter, Jussi Jokinen and Sergei Samsonov also scored for the Hurricanes, and Joni Pitkanen had two assists.
LaRose returned to the lineup after missing the previous seven games before the break due to injury, and Peters was making just his third NHL start. He stopped every shot the Leafs threw his way until Mitchell finally broke the shutout bid with 5 minutes to go in the third.
Jean-Sebastien Giguere was shaky in goal for Toronto, finishing with 25 saves. He also didn't believe the rumors had any bearin on the team's play.
``Every team is going through this right now, they're going through the same thing,' he said. ``There's tons of talk about Carolina trading some players. It's no excuse right now. We have a job to do and we didn't find a way to do it tonight.'
With both teams struggling this season, it's expected they will be among the busier teams during Wednesday's NHL trade deadline.
In addition to Ponikarovsky sitting out for Toronto, Carolina made healthy scratches of defenseman Aaron Ward and center Stephane Yelle. All three players are eligible for unrestricted free agency this July.
For Leafs coach Ron Wilson, the game was a cruel reminder that his day job can be much more trying than the two-week gig he had leading Team USA's silver medal-winning club at the Olympics.
``It was like the old Aqua Velva commercial - the slap across the face and like, 'back to reality,'' Wilson said.
Carolina's Ray Whitney, another pending unrestricted free agent, showed why a contending club might covet his playmaking skills on Carolina's second goal, which came 46 seconds into the second. The slick forward found Jokinen streaking toward the Leafs net and Jokinen beat Giguere high.
Sutter was then left all alone in front of the Toronto goal and banged home a pass from LaRose to make it 3-0. Ruutu then converted a pass from Finnish Olympic teammate Pitkanen, and fired a shot high over Giguere's glove from the faceoff circle.
Carolina's first goal came less than 3 minutes into the first on a horrendous giveaway by Giguere. With his team on a power play, the Leafs goalie went behind his net to play a puck. When he failed to make a quick pass, LaRose closed quickly, stole the puck and sent it into the empty net.
``We had a whole week to get ready and I can be the first to blame for that,' Giguere said of the flat start. ``It's a tough goal to give at the beginning of the game, it's hard to get energy. I'm supposed to come out hard and try to give energy to the team and some confidence and it was a tough goal to give up.'
Samsonov's third-period score was also a softie, as he squeezed a weak shot through Giguere from a sharp angle.
NOTES: F Jamie Lundmark played his first game with the Maple Leafs after the club claimed him on waivers from Calgary on Feb. 13. ... D Alexandre Picard, whom Carolina acquired in a trade with Ottawa before the Olympic break, made his Hurricanes debut. ... Eric Staal picked up an assist in his first game back with the Hurricanes since winning a gold medal with Canada's Olympic team.
The Associated Press News Service
The Associated Press
All Rights Reserved