Erik Cole's return to the RBC Center was the story heading in to the night, but sloppy play and a blown lead wound up being the main theme as Carolina fell in the shootout to Montreal, 4-3. Harrison-11.23.11 Brent-11.23.11
Brian Gionta was the only player to convert his attempt to give the Canadiens an extra point.
Linemates Brandon Sutter and Jiri Tlusty each had a goal and an assist, but they were matched by the Habs' Lars Eller and Travis Moen, who each scored, as the Canes blew 2-0 and 3-2 leads before eventually earning one in the standings, the team's third straight game with a point.
The Hurricanes opened strong, scoring just 34 seconds into the game when Jiri Tlusty flipped a wrister at Habs goalie Carey Price, who was fooled by the shot and eventually had it trickle past him for a 1-0 Canes lead. Then at the six-minute mark, Carolina got another good break when fourth line dominated a shift in the Montreal end and Tim Brent controlled the puck behind the Canadiens net before it popped in the air and landed on top of the goal. Brett Sutter smartly knocked the puck back to the ice, and Brent gathered it and centered it to a wide open Anthony Stewart to give the Hurricanes an early 2-0 lead.
The Canes seemed in control and appeared to be getting the bounces. Moen hit the post with about four minutes left in the first, then late in the period, Tuomo Ruutu took a four-minute high sticking penalty that carried over into the second. Carolina easily killed it off and seemed on their way. But with 10:54 left in the second, Eller struck on a curious play on the Carolina power play.
Hurricanes defenseman Jamie McBain turned the puck over in his own end, and Eller fired it to the point. Raphael Diaz's point shot was stopped by Ward, but Eller had slipped behind both McBain and Tomas Kaberle and was left alone to beat Ward with the rebound.
"I think that was the changer of the game," Carolina coach Paul Maurice said. "I think that we were where we wanted to be, then on the ice too long and too soft when it happened. And I think the way it happened because that happened, had a big impact on the game. Because after that it was as sloppy as a game you will see from both teams."
The Canadiens tied the score just 27 seconds into the third when Mike Cammalleri scored in front of Ward. Carolina then reclaimed the lead when Tlusty fed the puck to Patrick Dwyer, who then centered to Brandon Sutter for the 3-2 lead.
But the Canes again struggled to keep Montreal from in front of Ward's net, and the Canadiens struck again when Yannick Weber’s point shot was redirected by Moen in front of Ward and found the corner over the Carolina goalie’s right shoulder, tying the game at 3-3 with 15:23 remaining in regulation.
Carolina had chances to score more, but were unable to convert any of their four power play chances as Montreal extended its streak to 10 games without allowing a power play goal. At both even strength and on special teams, neither team gained any momentum.
"We thought it was a chance it was going to look like that," Maurice said. "It was choppy and no flow and lots of whistle and flurries of great chances for one team, then flurries of great chances for the other team. It was kind of an ugly game."
Both teams nearly scored in overtime — Staal hit the post while Montreal had two good chances to finish it — and it came down to a shootout. Ward stopped Cammalleri and Max Pacioretty, while Chad LaRose was stymied by Price and Jeff Skinner's attempt beat Price but rang off the post. Gionta converted on a nifty move, and then Jussi Jokinen was unable to beat Price give Montreal the win.
• Maurice broke up the Staal-Skinner-Ruutu line for "just 10 minutes," but later reunited them. "I didn’t like the way we were playing defensively, so I split them up just to kind of see if I could get them going," Maurice said. "Then in the third period, they have to figure out a way to do it when it’s not easy for them."
• Also split up was the pairing of McBain and Kaberle, as Tim Gleason joined McBain on one pairing and Allen was tabbed to play with Kaberle. Maurice was clearly disappointed in his D play, saying after the game, "I thought moving the puck was a challenge for us, and it caused us quite a few problems. There’s lots of areas to get better."
• Brandon Sutter was again overlooked come shootout time, with stalwarts Skinner and Jokinen preceded by LaRose.