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Game Analysis: Lightning At Hurricanes

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Carolina missed an opportunity to make ground on one of the teams they are chasing, falling Sunday to Tampa Bay 4-2 at PNC Arena.

The Hurricanes couldn't gain ground in the crowded Eastern Conference playoff hunt, falling 4-2 Sunday to Tampa Bay.
The Hurricanes couldn't gain ground in the crowded Eastern Conference playoff hunt, falling 4-2 Sunday to Tampa Bay.
James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

Lightning captain Steven Stamkos scored a late power play goal to give Tampa Bay the lead in an eventual 4-2 win Sunday over Carolina at PNC Arena.

Three Observations

1. Like the Ottawa game when Eddie Lack gave up a soft goal in a loss, Carolina was stung again by one their goaltender would like to have back. Ryan Callahan broke a 1-1 tie when he ripped a shot over Cam Ward's left shoulder from a wide angle to push the Lightning ahead. Like the Senators game, the Hurricanes responded to tie the game, but that one goal was essentially the difference — Lightning goalie Ben Bishop was particularly good late — in a very tight outing.

2. Officiating was a factor in the loss, and the NHL’s most criticized referee, Tim Peel, was part of the tandem monitoring the game. No one on the Carolina side made any direct comments about bad officiating, but the tone suggested the Hurricanes weren't thrilled. In his postgame news conference coach Bill Peters said, "It's playoff style hockey, right? The refs put their whistles away ... " before elaborating on the style the game took on. A visibly disappointed Jordan Staal took blame for the penalty he took that led to the Steven Stamkos power play game winner, but when asked about the officiating rushed out an "uh, no comment."

3. The loss gives Tampa Bay some breathing room in their attempt to make the playoffs, and it also highlights how Carolina hasn't been able to get over the hump against the teams they need to beat the most. In February, the Canes are just 1-2-2 in five games against Eastern Conference foes, with another test coming Tuesday at home against Philadelphia. There are still opportunities to gain ground in the East — New Jersey, Tampa Bay and Ottawa are the first three opponents in March — but the Hurricanes need regulation wins over the pack of teams in the middle of the conference if they want any chance at making the playoffs.

Number To Know

1 — Shorthanded assist for Jaccob Slavin, the first by a Hurricanes rookie since the team moved to North Carolina. Three Canes rookies have scored goals (Tommy Westlund on Dec. 26, 1999; Mike Zigomanis on April 2, 2003; and Eric Staal on Jan. 18, 2004), but Slavin — who got the secondary assist after feeding the puck to Jordan Staal for a 2-on-1 rush that was finished by Joakim Nordstrom — is the only first-year defenseman to ever register a shorthanded point and the only rookie to get an assist.

Plus

Michal Jordan — Jordan has played in just 21 games this season, but injuries to fellow blueliners have led to the 25-year-old defenseman playing in eight games this month. That in turn has led to better play from Jordan, and his confidence climaxed Sunday with a beautiful wraparound goal that tied the game at 2. Jordan would likely head back to the press box if Justin Faulk is ready to return Tuesday, but he's now playing well enough that the Hurricanes don't need to risk Faulk with an early return.

Minus

Elias Lindholm — The Hurricanes were close to killing off the Lightning’s power play late in the third, but Stamkos found his way into the low slot to get the game-winning goal. It appeared it was Lindholm, who creeped below the hashmarks where Slavin was already positioned, that was responsible for Stamkos and lost track of one of the NHL’s top snipers.