The stage was set, this had been billed as the game of the year.
The media did their job. They hyped this game all week. The fans did their part. It was the first sold out game at the RBC since October. The local educators showed up in force to celebrate "Teacher's Appreciation Night".
Everyone was ready for the supposed epic "battle royal for the playoffs", but that never happened.
Instead, the Hurricanes fell behind 2-0 in the first period. Before the second period was half way over, the score was 4-0 and Cam Ward had been pulled. You can not blame this game all on the goalie, though.
The Hurricanes kept turning the puck over and the Panthers kept taking full advantage of those turnovers. Joe Corvo was involved in the first two goals. Nic Wallin and Bryan Rodney almost crashed into each other, allowing Anthony Stewart an open breakaway for the next score. Just 12 seconds later, Greg Campbell skated in unimpeded and scored goal number four.
Before the period was over it was 5-0 and many in the capacity crowd decided to call it a night.
After the game in the locker room, the Canes tried to make it sound like this was just another contest and there was still plenty more hockey to play. Ray Whitney said that they basically "gave" Florida four or five of those goals. In essence, Paul Maurice said the same thing. No one gave Florida much credit.
But why did Carolina repeatedly turn the puck over? Which team took advantage of their chances, and which team wasted them? Let's give credit where credit is due, Florida looked like the much more skilled team and they had consistent pressure on the puck most of the night. Their passing was much better than the Canes, they looked like the better prepared team, and they buried their chances when they had them. Carolina hit the crossbar on a wide open net, could not lift the puck over Tomas Vokoun's pads when they needed to, and their passing was inept for most of the game.
One could say that Carolina gave away the game, or one could say that Florida took it. Either way, one team looked playoff worthy and the other did not.
The timing could have been better than to lay an egg during the first sell out in months. Some of those fans will not be in a big hurry to buy more tickets.
The Canes 42 shots on goal stat is misleading. Most of those shots were harmless. Chad LaRose said it best after the game when he mentioned that the team did not drive the net hard enough or often enough and did not pressure Vokoun.
Eric Staal had 11 shots on goal, but took two bad penalties and finished with a -3. Chalk up another win for Jay Bouwmeester, who watched him most of the night.
Tim Gleason and Joe Corvo both had horrible games and each finished with -4.
With the loss, the Canes will lose in a tiebreaker scenario because Florida has a 3-1-1 head's up record against them with one game to play.