The Carolina Hurricanes had an opportunity to move past the New York Rangers into seventh place in the Eastern Conference, but the Blueshirts scored a late goal to tie the game, then won in the shootout to retain their hold on the No. 7 slot. Here are five observations from Tuesday's loss.
1. The loss to the Rangers marked the third time in February that Carolina gave up a goal in the final three minutes of regulation to allow the game to go to overtime. On Feb. 5, the Hurricanes let the Thrashers score with 1:24 remaining but eventually won in overtime. But the Feb. 8 outing against the Devils (Nick Palmieri goal with 2:54 left) and last night's game (Wojtek Wolski tying tally with 1:50 remaining) both resulted in Carolina failing to secure the second point. So not only did Carolina get only four points when they should have secured six, they gave three points to teams they are battling for a playoff spot (five points if you believe New Jersey can still make a run).
2. More on the late-game collapses: While Paul Maurice's coaching system is usually wrongly characterized as a trap by some fans who remember when the coach did run such a system pre-lockout, there's no doubt the Hurricanes have become a team that goes into a shell when they gain a third-period lead. During the television broadcast, announcer Tripp Tracy praised Eric Staal for staying back as the high man during a scoring opportunity with the team up a goal. But that conservative approach has failed in helping Carolina hold on to leads. When the Hurricanes get ahead in the final period, their forecheck softens and they seem more interested in simply clearing the defensive zone than gaining possession and trying to move up ice. There is nothing more demoralizing to a team trying to make a comeback than being hung up in their own end. The Canes need to continue to apply pressure in all three zones if they want to hold on to leads.
3. Staal's hit on younger brother Marc was worthy of replays because it was the kind of clean, shoulder-to-chest hit the league wants to keep in the game. Here it is:
But all the "brother-on-brother crime" headlines and New York forward Ryan Callahan calling the hit "a little dirty" represent the kind of reactionary statements that lead to real problems in the game. There was a time when if a player took a big hit and wasn't hurt, he straightened his helmet and went to the bench. Now it seems every hit requires an immediate response or at least a postgame comment questioning the cleanliness of the action. The idea that every hit needs to be questioned (either immediately on the ice or in the postgame media scrums) takes away from the good hitting that happens in the game. Other players should take a cue from Tuomo Ruutu, who takes a big hit almost as well as he gives one.
4. Despite the loss, the Hurricanes have something to be excited about following Tuesday's game. Jussi Jokinen's return to Staal's wing resulted in two goals for the Finn, his first tallies since he scored Jan. 20 against the same Rangers. Injuries have limited Jokinen to just 49 games and 14 goals this season, making it highly unlikely he'll match the 30 goals he scored in 2009-10. But if he can stay healthy — he's twice been out of the lineup for multiple games due to a groin injury — Carolina's offense becomes much more balanced down the stretch.
5. Jay Harrison's two-point night exceeded his scoring output for October (no points), December (one assist) and January (one goal). In his career, he had just one month prior when he had both a goal and an assist (October 2009), so to accomplish the task in one game certainly makes Tuesday's performance the best offensive showing of his career. Harrison continues to far exceed expectations this year and has set career highs in every major statistical category, but his main contributions continue to come from tasks that don't stand out on a score sheet. But there is one stat that reflects his efforts: Harrison's plus-3 rating is best of any Hurricanes defender who has played the entire season in Raleigh.