The Carolina Hurricanes lost to the Florida Panthers on Friday night 2-0 in front of 10,511 at PNC Arena. Willie Mitchell scored his first of the season for the Panthers to break a scoreless deadlock 4:00 into the third period, and Reilly Smith added an empty net goal with :21 left.
Stopping there would produce the world's most boring recap, and even then it would be more entertaining than the plodding, close-checking, suck-the-life-out-of-the-crowd exhibition that the Canes and Panthers put on.
"There wasn't a lot of free space," said Canes coach Bill Peters in the understatement of the night. "It was just one of those games."
The game started with some promise. The Panthers, playing the second night of a back-to-back, gave the Canes plenty of space early and Andrej Nestrasil nearly put them on the board with a sublime kick pass to himself that he rang off the post three minutes into the game. That and a pair of Jeff Skinner shots, both turned away by Panthers goalie Roberto Luongo, was pretty much the extent of the Canes' minimal offensive attack.
Eric Staal said that the style of the game reflected the two teams' similarities. "For the most part, the focus was pretty good. There wasn't a lot of room. You had to capitalize on your opportunities."
That's exactly what the Panthers did four minutes into the third period. The ageless Jaromir Jagr kept the puck in the zone, and Jonathan Huberdeau drew the attention of every Hurricane on the ice. That allowed Willie Mitchell to sneak into the slot from the point undetected, and Huberdeau's pass was right on the mark to give Mitchell his first goal of the season, the 25th player to score his first goal against Carolina this season.
"You have to know the importance of each and every shift," Peters said. "Every shift matters. We had the puck along the wall, and we didn't get it out, and it caused enough confusion that [Mitchell] got open."
The Panthers went on to lock down the neutral zone, and nothing really troubled Luongo from that point on. Peters pulled Cam Ward with 2:00 remaining, and the Canes had a couple of decent looks, but Smith's empty netter consigned the Canes to their third shutout of the season and first since November 10 against the Rangers.
Once upon a time, the Panthers endured a 15-game winless skid over parts of five seasons against the Canes in Raleigh. Those days are long gone. Since the start of the 2014-15 season, the Panthers have won five straight over the Canes by a combined score of 15-2, including three shutouts.
The Canes return to action tomorrow night against the Penguins in Pittsburgh, then are back home Monday for a date with the Washington Capitals in the team's final game before the four-day Christmas holiday break.