The wait goes on for the Carolina Hurricanes. Staring down a seven-game road trip that coincides with the State Fair across the street, the Canes did not exactly go out in style Tuesday night, dropping a 4-1 decision to the Florida Panthers that coach Bill Peters admitted never got out of first gear for the home team.
"I didn't see that coming, especially this early in the year," said Peters. "I didn't think we did much of anything. I don't know where that came from. Not ready, not mentally sharp. We looked very tentative."
It didn't take long for the Canes to find themselves digging out from an early deficit. Just two minutes into the game, the Panthers' Nick Bjugstad was left alone in the low slot and gave the visitors, playing their third game in four nights, a 1-0 lead. Eddie Lack, who generally played a good game but gave up more rebounds than the coaching staff would have liked to see, was hung out to dry as the Panthers piled 14 first-period shots on the Canes' new netminder, helped along by two Hurricanes penalties that kept the game from finding any sort of rhythm.
Three minutes into the second period, the Panthers had a two-goal lead taken away by a confusing whistle. A linesman blew play dead, believing the Panthers had too many men on the ice. The whistle cost Connor Brickley, who was away on a breakaway, his first career goal, drawing the ire of the Panthers' bench. After some discussion, it was decided that the Canes were the ones with too many men, so while the Panthers did not get the goal they did earn a power play.
Peters knew that his team was guilty. "There was a lot of confusion on that. Once I looked at the overhead, I knew we had six [on the ice] so I didn't want to argue it."
Slowly, the Hurricanes climbed back into the game. They tied it at 12:06 on Elias Lindholm's first of the year, a blast of a one-timer from the top of the near circle off a nice seeing-eye pass from Brad Malone. After that, though, the Panthers clamped down in front of the net, allowing goaltender Al Montoya to see the puck while taking away passing lanes from the step-too-slow Hurricanes.
Brickley earned his just desserts in the third period, though, tapping home a rebound that became the game-winner at 12:18 with Lack down and out and Victor Rask caught on the wrong side of the puck. Fifty seconds later, it became a two-goal lead when Aleksander Barkov was in the right place to knock home a rebound of a Jaromir Jagr shot, and former Canes fan favorite Jussi Jokinen iced it with an empty netter with 1:47 left.
"I felt like we played a really good second period," said Lack. "We knew it was going to come down to the next goal, and they scored it. We just have to learn and get better from it."
While Lack was looking for the positives in the game, a visibly perturbed Peters had no interest in looking for a silver lining.
"[Florida] worked harder, they were more desperate, they were hungrier and they played harder for sure," he said. "There weren't many aspects of the game I liked."
Heading out on the road, the Canes know they have business to attend to. They remain winless in the last two Octobers, and if they want this season to end differently than last, Jordan Staal says they know what they have to do.
"You have to worry about the next shift, the next game, the next day. When you start looking at the big picture is when you start losing yourself," the Canes' alternate captain said. "We have to refocus and come back ready to work."