Standing in their way were the red-hot Columbus Blue Jackets. Columbus, a winner in four of their last five games, promised to be more than a formidable foe and was nothing short of that throughout the Metropolitan Division tilt.
It was a bit of a slow start for both teams at PNC Arena on Saturday night. The Hurricanes had a number of chances early, especially from the Martinook-Wallmark-Svechnikov trio, but Sergei Bobrovsky made some key saves.
On the other end of the ice, Carolina was far too loose. They certainly looked like a team that hadn’t played in nearly a week. Scott Darling was forced to make a couple of tough saves, including one on his own teammate when Calvin de Haan nearly potted one into his own net.
At the 11:54 mark, it was Columbus that was able to take advantage of the sloppy start. Sebastian Aho’s line got pinned in their own end, and a cycling shift from the Blue Jackets’ top line resulted in a puck going into the Canes’ net.
Cam Atkinson found himself unmarked in the slot and put a one-time shot between the pad and the glove of Darling to give the road team a 1-0 lead. It was a goal that Darling would likely want to have back, but the defensive-zone coverage by the guys in front of him wasn’t anything to write home about, either.
At the end of the first 20, the Canes were on the wrong side of a 1-0 score. Not a good first period but, all things considered, it could have been much worse.
Things did get slightly worse, though, just over one minute into the second period.
Trevor van Riemsdyk couldn’t strip the puck from Artemi Panarin, and a wide-open Atkinson was able to get the puck past the outstretched pad of a sprawling Darling to give the Jackets a 2-0 advantage. It was Atkinson’s second of the night.
Just over four minutes later, the Hurricanes got on the board. Sebastian Aho put a wrap-around attempt far-post on Bobrovsky and the the Canes were, suddenly, back in the game. The crowd was alive for the first time all night, and it seemed like the game was on verge of turning around.
Until it didn’t.
Just moments after hope was restored in PNC Arena, it was quickly taken right back.
Zach Werenski wired a a wrister on the rush right by Darling from the slot to bump the Columbus lead back to two goals. This time, though, the Hurricanes couldn’t cut the lead back in half.
Four minutes later, on the power play, the road team increased their lead to three goals. Atkinson ripped his third goal of the night into the Carolina goal. His 12th of the year completed the hat trick and extracted whatever life was still present in PNC Arena.
At the end of the second period, the Hurricanes found themselves in a three-goal hole that felt like six.
Columbus was gifted a power play early in the final frame as Lucas Wallmark “interfered with the goalie”. And, by that, I mean he got two minutes for being pushed into Bobrovsky. Fortunately, the Canes did kill off the minor penalty and continued to try working back into the game.
Just before the halfway mark of the third period, Carolina had an opportunity on the power play but, again, they got very little offense going and the Blue Jackets held onto their three-goal cushion.
Mercifully, the game finally ended. The Blue Jackets controlled play from start to finish and beat the Hurricanes by a final tally of 4-1 at PNC Arena.
For the Canes, it’s a loss that shouldn’t be taken lightly. From top to bottom, they got crushed by a better team. They didn’t have the energy they needed, and it cost them.
Despite the tough loss, Carolina has no choice but to turn it around quickly. They play again tomorrow night against the New Jersey Devils.
[On if he was the most mad he has been all season during the Canes’ second-period timeout] I haven’t been upset all year, because the effort has been there. You can be upset about things not working or not getting the breaks, but we haven’t had to get upset because we’ve been doing what we need to do. Tonight was not that way. That’s why I wasn’t too happy.
[On what he said during the timeout] I don’t remember what I was saying because I was kind of losing my mind. It really just came down to the fact that we played a really good team that we knew was a good team and they won all the puck battles. They were first to everything. They played like a first place team and we didn’t have the desperation that we needed to, so it was frustrating.
[On how Scott Darling played] It wasn’t the goalie’s fault. We were giving up point-blank shots and you can’t do that in this league.
[On the quick turn around] The good thing about this league is that you kind of have to forget about it. We can either harp on that, which isn’t going to help us, or look forward to redeeming ourselves tomorrow night.
[On coming out flat] It was just not good enough. I don’t think we were ready, and it kept getting away from us. It was a really bad game for us.
[On if the long break between games had anything to do with their slow start] That’s just an excuse... That can’t happen under any circumstances.
[On how they can get ready for the game tomorrow] It’s all in our heads. Each player has to get ready, individually. I’m sure we will be ready for tomorrow.
[On what Rod Brind’Amour said during the timeout] Nothing needed to be said, but Rody said it perfectly. We just took a second off here or there and because of that we lost every single battle that was important. We spent a lot of time in our own zone.
[On the game, as a whole, and the quick turn around] It was a dud. Let’s just call it what it was. It was a dud and it was totally unacceptable. The good news is that we get to come back tomorrow and rectify this.