Eric Staal was again dominant — both on the ice and in the faceoff circle — but his efforts weren't enough to lead the Carolina Hurricanes past the New York Rangers. (Photo by Jamie Kellner)
The Carolina Hurricanes lost just one game in regulation in all of February, but it took only one day to match that in March. The New York Rangers showed why they are the Eastern Conference's top team, overcoming a one-goal deficit Thursday to top the Canes, 3-2, at the RBC Center. Eric Staal extended his point streak to 10 games with two assists, and Jeff Skinner and Jay Harrison scored for Carolina.
The loss drops Carolina to 24-27-13, tied with the Islanders for 13th in Eastern Conference with 61 points.
1. The Rangers third goal — the eventual game-winner — was caused by an unfortunate bounce when Jaroslav Spacek's attempt to fire the puck into the Rangers' zone hit linesman Tony Sericolo and led to Brandon Prust's goal on an odd-man break. Coach Kirk Muller was as animated as he's been since taking over behind the Carolina bench, yelling at the officials after the goal. But while the Rangers announcers hypothesized that Muller was upset over Sericolo's positioning on the play, Muller said after the game that we was complaining that New York's Brian Boyle came in and hit Spacek well after the puck was gone. Boyle wound up beating Spacek back up the ice and fed Prust for the goal.
2. Muller leaned heavily on his first power play unit, and while they did manage to score another goal with the man advantage they also squandered several opportunities to get back in the game. Skinner opened scoring in the second with a power play tally just 58 seconds into the period, but it was the only time Carolina would score in nearly nine minutes of extra-man time. The top unit of Staal, Skinner, Jussi Jokinen, Tim Brent and Justin Faulk all played more than seven minutes on the power play, including most of a four-minute stretch when New York's John Mitchell was in the box for a high-sticking double minor. Carolina even pulled Cam Ward to get a 6-on-4 advantage in an attempt to cut into the Rangers' two-goal lead, but the Canes weren't able to take advantage of the power play.
3. It's been open season on coaches lately, and Carolina assistant John MacLean was the latest victim. Three head coaches — Buffalo's Lindy Ruff, Edmonton's Tom Renney and San Jose's Todd McLellan — have all missed games with injuries suffered at the rink. In the second period of Thursday's game, MacLean was hit with a puck that ricocheted off the glass behind the Carolina bench and caught him in the side of the head. New York's John Scott, playing his first game with the Rangers, attempted to clear the puck out of the Rangers zone, but instead lifted it over the boards, bouncing it off glass and hitting MacLean. MacLean shook off the blow, and luckily wasn't severely injured by the errant puck. Here's the video.
Number To Know
17 — Games Harrison had gone without a goal before scoring Thursday with 40 seconds left. Harrison's surprising point production was a big topic in the middle of the season, but it has slowed dramatically the past six weeks. In an eight-day, four-game stretch in January, Harrison had four goals and an assist. But in the past 18 games, he's managed just Thursday's goal and two assists, giving him 21 points in 54 games on the season. That doesn't make Harrison's growth as a player any less impressive, but the journeyman defenseman has seemingly come back down to Earth the past month and a half.
Eric Staal — Putting Staal in the plus column has become commonplace of late, but it's hard to deny his place as the Canes' top player each night. On top of assisting on both Carolina goals, Staal was 16 of 22 on faceoffs, rang two shots off the post and easily could have had four or five points. In the 39 games since Muller took over, Staal has 45 points — and that includes a six-game stretch in December when he had no points at all. Staal has long been a good late-season performer, but until he puts together a full season, Carolina fans will long for the player who dominated the 2005-06 campaign and helped lead the Hurricanes to the Stanley Cup.
Cam Ward — Ward was the victim of bad bounces Thursday, but if Carolina is going to beat one the NHL's top teams they need their goalie to be at his best. Ward wasn't terrible, but he wasn't great either. He was out-dueled by Rangers backup Martin Biron while facing just 25 shots. All that being said, it was Ward's first regulation loss since a Jan. 31 defeat to the Islanders.
The Hurricanes reassigned goalie Justin Peters to Charlotte of the American Hockey League. That signals the return of Brian Boucher, who has been out nearly three months with a lower-body injury. Here is the release from the team.
‘CANES REASSIGN JUSTIN PETERS TO CHARLOTTE
Brian Boucher to be removed from injured reserve
RALEIGH, NC – Jim Rutherford, President and General Manager of the National Hockey League’s Carolina Hurricanes, today announced that the team has reassigned goaltender Justin Peters to the Charlotte Checkers of the American Hockey League (AHL). Rutherford also announced that netminder Brian Boucher, who has been sidelined since Dec. 5 with a lower-body injury, will be removed from injured reserve.
Peters, 25, was recalled to Carolina from Charlotte on emergency conditions on Dec. 14. The Blythe, Ont., native played in seven games during the recall, posting a 2-3-2 record, a 2.48 goals-against average and a .931 save percentage. He made six starts in that span, and recorded his first NHL shutout in the Hurricanes’ 5-0 win on Feb. 20 against the Washington Capitals at the RBC Center. Peters (6’1", 205 lbs.) is in his sixth professional season and has posted an 11-11-3 record, 3.23 goals-against average and a .900 save percentage in 28 career NHL games with Carolina. The Hurricanes drafted Peters in the second round, 38th overall, in the 2004 NHL Entry Draft.