A hot start fizzled out quickly for the Carolina Hurricanes on Thursday night at PNC Arena. Despite a 2-0 lead halfway through the first period, the Washington Capitals whittled away at the Canes' lead the rest of the night, finally claiming the lead with 2:16 to go and sending 16,810 home disappointed with a 3-2 win over the Canes.
"With a 2-0 lead against a team that's behind us, we want to make sure we finish it off," said Canes captain Eric Staal. "We didn't have a very good second period. Two bad line changes cost us two goals."
Just like Tuesday night, the Canes started quickly, and it only took them 74 seconds to get on the board. Alexander Semin scored his 8th of the season, and his first against his former team, finishing off a pretty passing play on a dish from Eric Staal. Just over seven minutes later, the Canes doubled their lead on a Patrick Dwyer deflection of Tim Gleason's point shot, and the Canes were in cruise control.
The Caps woke up after a mid-period television timeout, firing nine shots on the Canes, but Dan Ellis stood tall with several big saves, none bigger than a desperation left-leg kick save to deny Eric Fehr on the doorstep.
Despite starting the second period on a power play, the Canes got no momentum from the man advantage, and the Caps finally broke through after a series of hard-working shifts. Joey Crabb took advantage of some lackadaisical defending to tip home his second of the season at 5:56 off an Aaron Volpatti centering pass.
The Canes spent the majority of the period back on their heels, unable to do things as fundamental as staying in their lanes on a breakout and completing tape-to-tape passes. Fortunately for them, the Caps were largely firing low-percentage shots on Ellis, and there weren't many of them in the first place: the Caps only mustered six shots in the period, which seemed low considering how thoroughly outplayed the Canes were for long stretches.
The third period also started with one team on a power play. This time, it was the Caps, and they made the Canes pay for Eric Staal's high-sticking penalty as Troy Brouwer found an unchecked Alex Ovechkin in the far circle at 1:01 for a one-timer that was a slam dunk when no one wearing black felt the need to check him. The goal doubled as Ovechkin's 700th NHL point.
Six minutes into the period, Bobby Sanguinetti lost his balance and was checked into the boards by Crabb, who took a boarding penalty. Sanguinetti left the ice favoring his left shoulder, although he later returned to the game.
Then, the bottom fell out.
The Canes botched a line change and afforded Ovechkin a breakaway from the blue line. He drew Ellis down and backhanded a puck past the goaltender's left skate, but his shot hit the post. Mike Ribeiro, though, was right on the spot to cash in on the rebound at 17:44, just barely poking the puck in over the goal line for the eventual game-winner.
Ribeiro had no idea whether the puck was over the line when he returned to the bench while referee Chris Rooney called Toronto to confirm. "I'll take those," he said. "I'll take the garbage behind there."
Despite a late flurry that included a brief 6-on-4 when Nicklas Backstrom took a holding penalty at 19:44, the Canes were unable to solve Michal Neuvirth, who made 36 saves for his second win of the season.
Coach Kirk Muller said that the Canes' second-period effort "played right into their hands. We tried to play a run-and-gun game rather than a structured game. We allowed them to get back into it in the second period, and then it was up for grabs in the third."
"We stuck to our system for the most part," said Ellis (4-3-0), who made 22 saves in a losing effort. "For the times that we didn't, that's when we allowed them to get back into the game."
The power play, which was an impotent 0-for-4 on the night, remains a concern, now stuck in a 2-for-23 rut in March and 4-for-45 in the last month. "It's going to cost you some nights," said Muller. "We have to get it cranked up."
- Semin's goal at 1:14 of the first period was the ninth time this season the Canes have scored a goal in the first two minutes of a period this season. The loss was the Canes' first in regulation when they have scored an early goal in a period.
- The loss dropped the Canes to 8-1-1 when scoring first and 11-1-0 when holding a lead after two periods, a fact your humble reporter was repeatedly reminded of on Twitter after the game after he made the mistake of tweeting the unbeaten stat at the second intermission.
- The Canes' first line has 37 points in the team's last eight games, and has 82 points (33g, 49a) in 26 games, a point-per-game average for each player when averaged out.
- The Canes and Caps remain the only two teams not to contest a shootout in the NHL this season, and the Canes have yet to even reach overtime on home ice with a record of 7-6-0 at PNC Arena.
- Ovechkin's two points add to his Canes-killing total, now at 62 points in 50 games played against Carolina in his career.
- More on Ovechkin's goal: it was only the sixth the Canes have surrendered in the second period on home ice this year. The Canes have outscored the opposition 21-6 in the second period.