The Carolina Hurricanes traveled to Atlanta desperate for a win. While they played with a bit more urgency than their two previous losses and certainly tried to pull out all the stops near the end of the game, they still came out on the short end of the stick to the Thrashers.
Poor discipline, selfish penalties, and bad timing would end up killing the Hurricanes chances of winning this game.
The discipline came into question when ill-advised pinching by the defense allowed too many odd-man rushes for Atlanta. The Thrashers took advantage of two such opportunities with pin-point passing and accurate shooting and jumped out to a 2-0 lead. If not for a couple of near spectacular saves by Cam Ward, the score would have been worse.
The Canes could not get on the board until late in the second period when Tuomo Ruutu got a beautiful shot past Johan Hedberg, who had been perfect in net for the home team up to that point. The goal seemed to pump the team up and give them a much needed lift, but the good vibrations didn't last long.
Just a moment or two later, Joe Corvo was knocked down from behind after sending the puck out of his own end. Apparently, Corvo was not pleased with the hit and slashed the perpetrator afterwards, resulting in a two minute call on the Hurricanes defenseman. The penalty sucked the life out of the Carolina bench and took away any momentum the team had managed to build after Ruutu's goal.
The Canes were able to kill the penalty, but lost the extra jump they needed to continue their comeback.
Just two minutes into the third period, Sergei Samsonov was given a questionable slashing call. Nic Wallin argued too much to the ref and was handed an unsportsmanlike penalty as well. The coinciding penalties gave the Thrashers a full two minute, 5-on-3 advantage.
The Hurricanes battled valiantly throughout the penalty kill and came very close to killing it off. But Lady Luck would slap them hard in the face as Ilya Kovalchuk was able to just barely keep a clearing attempt from crossing the blueline. Two of the three Canes penalty-killers were pursuing the puck, but Kovalchuk was able to put it behind them and Cam Ward faced yet another odd-man rush that he was unable to stop.
Slava Kozlov shot the puck in the net with just three seconds left on the Atlanta powerplay, giving the Thrashers a 3-1 lead.
To their credit, the Hurricanes did not give up on this game like they did the previous two in Raleigh. They tried hard to battle back. Rod Brind'Amour scored a powerplay goal on a nice look from Ray Whitney to pull the Canes close again at the 14 minute mark, but try as they might in those last, pressure-packed minutes, the Canes could not get another puck past Hedberg.
Thoughts and observations-
Brandon Sutter continues to impress. He won an important draw during the 5-on-3, he saved a goal on a previous penalty kill, he took a couple of nice shots, and he played hard on both ends of the ice.
Rod Brind'Amour has points in four consecutive games for Carolina.
Tuomo Ruutu had another nice game. He drew a penalty and then scored his goal with a perfect shot, even with a Thrasher right on him. He was credited with two of the Hurricanes four hits on the game.
The Ruutu stat was not a typo. The official scorer only credited the Hurricanes with four hits in the entire game. While I question the accuracy of that total, it does point out that the Canes need to pick up their physicality, especially for a game that was supposedly earmarked as being vital.
The team allowed too many odd-man rushes, while the Thrashers did not allow any. The effort was better tonight, but they made too many mental errors. They did not play smart hockey. Carolina has the more experienced group, but they looked frustrated and unorganized while Atlanta looked confident and played as a team.
The victory tied an Atlanta franchise record, five wins in a row.
The loss was the third in a row for the Canes. The team has suffered only seven streaks of three losses or more in Peter Laviolette's 314 game tenure at Carolina, the longest being four losses in a row in January of last season.
Next up for the Canes is a 3PM Sunday matinee against the Tampa Bay Lightning and their new coach Rick Tocchet. I wouldn't want to bet on that one.