Brandon Sutter and Bryan Allen sat in their stalls, heads in their hands, wondering what could have been. Their Hurricanes, facing a game that's as must-win as a February game can be, had the Florida Panthers on the ropes, up two goals with seven minutes to go, only to surrender two goals and force the game to overtime.
When overtime came and went with neither team scoring, everyone in the building knew what was coming. The Canes' futility in the shootout is well documented, and they added to it tonight, falling to 0-6 on the season in the skills competition by dropping an agonizing 3-2 decision to the Panthers.
The Panthers began the game on a tear, taking eleven shots in the first nine minutes of the game while the Canes were stuck with none and looked like they missed the memo that the game had started. Justin Peters was solid, but the Canes were giving him precious little support as a good majority of the first period was spent in the Carolina zone.
The Canes then were forced to play the final 50 minutes with eleven forwards, as Patrick Dwyer suffered a lower-body injury with 12:45 to go and did not return to the game.
After Krys Barch kneed Jeff Skinner along the boards next to the Hurricanes' bench at 17:49, ten seconds later the Canes struck paydirt. Eric Staal's tough play along the boards eventually forced the puck out to a wide-open Justin Faulk, who was completely uncovered in the near circle and rifled a wrister past Jose Theodore to put the Canes up 1-0, a lead they would take into the locker room at intermission despite being outshot 19-9 in the first period.
Peters was the story in the second period, holding the Panthers at bay as they took 11 shots but weren't able to score on any of them. The Canes, likewise, had very little luck, hitting two posts in the second including Staal on a power play early in the period.
Finally, the Canes opened up a two-goal lead on a Jussi Jokinen's ninth goal of the season, wrister from the low slot at 17:32 that was the product of a Skinner steal behind the net. The Canes were more than happy to take a two-goal lead to the dressing room.
In the third, Tomas Fleischmann broke the ice for the Panthers by scoring his 20th, a screened shot from the near circle that Peters never saw until after it was past him at 13:58. After the goal, Tim Gleason and Tomas Kopecky jawed on the way to the benches and Gleason slashed Kopecky across the wrists, leaving Kopecky writhing in pain on the Florida bench and Panthers coach Kevin Dineen screaming at officials Brad Watson and Marcus Vinnerborg wondering where a penalty call was.
The newly acquired Wojtek Wolski, who arrived at the arena two hours before faceoff, tied the game with his first of the season, a wrister that Peters saw all the way yet was unable to stop at 18:13. After regulation, the Panthers held a 42-27 advantage in shots, indicative of the way the Panthers controlled play for long stretches.
Midway through overtime, a scrum in front of the net saw Eric Staal and Erik Gudbranson sent off for matching roughing penalties after Staal took exception to what he said was a two-handed Gudbranson slash to his wrist. Despite two full minutes of three-on-three hockey the Canes couldn't muster a single shot and the game headed to the shootout, where Stephen Weiss scored the game-winner on Florida's third shot.
Despite the loss, Canes coach Kirk Muller said he was proud of his team. "I think, as a coach, I cannot ask for more from our guys," he said after the game. "I think they're giving it everything they've got right now." Muller's words might have been designed to spark a dejected locker room, which knew they had every opportunity to close out the Panthers and were unable to do so.
"That one really does sting," said Peters, whose sentiment was echoed by other players in the locker room. "It's unfortunate that we weren't able to hold on."
- Jiri Tlusty did not record a point, snapping a nine-game point streak. Staal now holds a team-high eight game point streak with his assist on Faulk's goal, scoring 13 points in that stretch of time.
- Carolina drops to 5-9-2 against the Southeast Division and 0-1-2 against the Panthers this season.
- The Hurricanes have been outscored 76-58 in the third period this season.
- After the game, the Canes reassigned goaltender Mike Murphy to Charlotte of the AHL. The Checkers do not have a game scheduled until next Saturday, so one of the Canes' injured goaltenders may be able to return on Tuesday when the Nashville Predators come to town.