The Canes played one of their best periods of the year Thursday night. Unfortunately, it was bookended by shaky ones and those cost the team in a 4-2 loss to Montreal at PNC Arena.
The Carolina Hurricanes' season-long four game winning streak came to an end Thursday night at the hands of the Eastern Conference's top team. Carey Price made 42 saves, Lars Eller and Brandon Prust each had three-point nights, and despite a second period which saw them outshot 21-5 the Montreal Canadiens beat the Hurricanes 4-2 in front of 16,774 at PNC Arena.
"[Playing Montreal] requires a 60-minute effort," said Hurricanes defenseman Jay Harrison. "We just came off it a little bit. Our start was a little slow, and we could have had a better finish as well."
The Canes began the game lethargic and found themselves trailing by two less than halfway through the period. Prust scored his 4th at 3:22 as Canes goaltender Justin Peters couldn't handle a rebound of an Alexei Emelin point shot. Just under five minutes later, the visitors went up 2-0 on Josh Gorges' second of the year on totally blown coverage by the Canes that left Gorges wide open to receive Prust's pass.
At one point, shots were 12-4 Montreal, and that differential didn't do justice to how completely the Habs were controlling play at both ends of the ice.
Finally, near the end of the period the Canes started to mount an offensive attack. Justin Faulk was robbed point-blank by Price, and a tip chance by Jiri Tlusty during a late-period power play went just wide.
The Canes unloaded on Price to start the second period, registering eight shots in the first six minutes of the period and finally cashing in on the last of those. Jordan Staal fired home a 30-foot wrister through a perfect Patrick Dwyer screen and past Price, who never saw it, at 6:07.
The first half of the game was a shooting gallery, seeing 46 combined shots with 26 of them belonging to Carolina. The first shot of the game's second half came off the stick of Drayson Bowman, and it tied the game at 10:27 with a perfectly placed wrister from the top of the far circle. Jeremy Welsh, recalled earlier in the day from Charlotte (AHL), earned his first NHL point with an assist to set Bowman up at the blue line.
Officials Kevin Pollock and Frederick L'Ecuyer, who were calling just about everything in the book in the first period, were noticeably more lenient in the second, to the point that tempers flared at a TV timeout late in the period between Francis Bouillon and Brett Sutter. One noticeable call they did decide to make was a penalty shot that Pollock awarded to Eric Staal after Yannick Weber hooked him on a shorthanded breakaway. Staal's shot was sent high, partially deflected away by Price.
Even in such a great period, the Canes could generate no momentum with the power play. An 0-for-4 performance left the team in a 3-for-35 skid over the last 11 games, understandably a concerning statistic for Canes coach Kirk Muller. "For some reason our guys play hard 5-on-5 and drop the piece on the power play. We have to simplify it. It probably cost us tonight."
Despite the struggles with the man advantage, the team's effort in the second was applauded by their coach. "There was such a high tempo, we were aggressive, we won battles," Muller said. "It was an ideal period, the best for us [all] year."
After firing 21 shots on Price in the second period, the Canes were noticeably less intense to begin the third period, and the Habs sensed that they had an opening. Sure enough, Lars Eller's line scored their third goal of the night at 6:07, with Eller one-timing a Gorges pass past Peters, who made 24 saves in a losing effort.
Just under two minutes later, after Semin took a high-sticking penalty on Alex Galchenyuk, P.K. Subban's sixth of the season restored the Habs' two-goal lead. All of that momentum from the spectacular second period not only left the building, it was last seen driving about 90 mph down I-40 in the vicinity of Winston-Salem.
It never returned, as the Canes struggled offensively and only managed nine shots on Price in the third period, taking a pair of frustration penalties in the final minute to seal their fate and gift-wrap two points to the conference leaders.
"I thought the guys played hard," said Muller. "We threw 44 shots at the net, and Price came up big. It happens."
- Prust had three points on the night (1g, 2a) giving him nine for the year, four of which have come in two games against Carolina.
- Scoring the first goal of the game is paramount for Carolina: the Canes are undefeated when scoring first, but are 7-9 when allowing the first goal of the game.
- Staal's miss on his penalty shot attempt dropped him to 3-for-7 in his career on penalty shots.
- Bouillon played in his 700th career NHL game tonight, 505 of which have come in three separate stints with the Canadiens dating back to 1999.
- The Canes get Friday off before wrapping up this homestand with a visit from the New Jersey Devils on Saturday night.
- Click for postgame audio from Eric Staal, Jay Harrison and Kirk Muller.