The Carolina Hurricanes had a rough time of it Saturday night as they watched their lead and two all important points slip away at the end of the game in Atlanta. Unfortunately for the team and for their fans, it was not the first time the Canes have had this problem. While those particular points were crucial, they were not any more important than other points lost earlier in the season under similar circumstances. And all of these "lost" points are starting to add up.
Every NHL team will blow a lead at the end of a game from time to time, but is this more of a problem for the Hurricanes? Let's take a quick look at a few previous games and see:
- Date 11/1/08: Edmonton is at the RBC and with the score tied 1-1, Ethan Moreau scores on an odd man rush with 1:28 left in the game. Moreau scores an empty-netter a little bit later and the Oilers win, 3-1.
- Date 11/6/08: The Canes are visiting Washington and seem to be in control while holding a 2-1 lead until Alexander Semin scores the tying goal with 2:43 remaining. To add insult to injury, Semin scores the game winner with just 11 seconds left. Caps win 3-2.
- Date 12/11/08: The Canes are having their way with the Flyers and build up a 5-1 lead going into the third period. But the home team scores four goals in that final period, with Simon Gagne tying it up with just 1:44 on the clock. The Canes end up losing in a shootout, 6-5.
- Date 1/15/09: The Canes fight back from a 4-0 deficit to tie the Toronto Maple Leafs at home, but Tim Gleason gets a high sticking penalty with about five minutes left and the Leafs score the game winner on the ensuing powerplay. They also score an empty netter before all is said and done. Canes lose, 6-4.
- Date 2/3/09: The Canes fight back to tie Vancouver 3-3 and earn a powerplay late in the game giving them a great chance to win. But the Canucks end up scoring while short-handed with 1:22 left and the Canes end up empty-handed while losing, 4-3.
- Date 2/28/09: The Canes hold a 3-1 lead half way through the third period against Atlanta, but once again allow four goals, including an empty-netter in the loss. Rich Peverley fires in the game winner with 1:28 left on the clock.
Those are six examples of games where the Hurricanes were either in the lead or tied near the end, and out of a possible 12 points in hand, they were only able to earn one.
There are two different ways one could look at those results. You could say that the Hurricanes were just seconds away from having an additional 11 points and with a lucky bounce of the puck here and there, the team would have 80 points instead of 69. That would put them four points ahead of the Philadelphia Flyers, who are currently in fourth place in the Eastern Conference with 76 points.
Or you could say that good teams find a way to win late in games, and lesser teams find a way to lose. Is there some specific reason the team has repeatedly botched close games in the third period? Do they change the way they play and sit back when they get the lead? Is it youthful inexperience?
No matter what the reasons, dumb luck, or dumb play, the Canes can ill afford to allow anymore points to slip away late in contests like they have in the past. Thanks to the loss in Atlanta, they have now been passed over by Pittsburgh in the standings this weekend, and find themselves in 10th place. That's not exactly the place you want to find yourself in April, but probably the place they deserve to be at the present time.