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Cole fuels better production

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When the Canes picked up Erik Cole in a Wednesday trade with Edmonton, they were hoping for an offensive bump and better production from the top line of Cole, Eric Staal and Tuomo Ruutu.

But this much better? After helping spark a 6-1 win Friday over Calgary in Cole's return game, the line accounted for six goals and nine assists Saturday in the 9-3 spanking of Tampa Bay as Staal had a career-best four goals and six points.

"They have looked good together," Canes coach Paul Maurice said today. "I thought they looked good against Calgary, but that was it — good. They did play against Calgary's top line, but I didn't see anything to really get excited about.

"It was a lot better against Tampa but Tampa did not have their best outing, especially their goal-tenders. But the production was there."

There was the one play in the first period that had Maurice and everyone else on the Canes bench excited. Cole bulldozed his way up the right boards with speed, with the puck and passed to Staal for Staal's second goal. It was vintage Cole and the first of his four assists in the game.

"That's what we're shooting for," Maurice said. "That's my memory of Erik Cole — doing those kinds of things. I have very high expectations for Erik."

Ruutu had a power-play goal and Staal's first goal came with the Canes shorthanded. But the rest were at even strength.

Maurice was worried about Saturday's game, despite the Lightning's defensive and goaltending problems. He had seen Calgary steamroll the Philadelphia Flyers in the Flames' first game after obtaining center Olli Jokinen in a Wednesday trade, then fall flat against the Canes.

"There are no easy games, and we were going on the road after an emotional win against a team with two of the best offensive players in the world," Maurice said.

Martin St. Louis and Vincent Lecavalier both scored for the Lightning, but not until the third period, not until the Canes had built a 9-1 lead.

Maurice remembers looking at the St. Pete Times Forum scoreboard early in the third and having one thought: "This game can't end fast enough. Nothing good can happen from here."

But the Canes got out of the game healthy and with a season sweep of the Lightning.

'We got a little loose in the first 10 minutes of the third, but that's human nature," Maurice said. "We were able to sit some people and hold their minutes down. That may be the fewest minutes (Staal) has played all season, which was good."

Staal's 13:55 of ice time was the center's low for the season.

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Staal and Cole are just a good fit for each other, and throw in Ruutu as well. I don't recall more than a few shifts since Cole came back where that line didn't have strong pressure in the offensive zone.

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Only 13:55 of ice time and still got 4 goals and 6 points. Some players just play better when they have the right line mates.

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About the blogger

A Raleigh native, Chip has worked at the N&O since 1979 and is the Canes beat writer. He can be reached at chip.alexander@newsobserver.com. You can follow him on Twitter at @ice_chip.
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