And just like that, the Carolina Hurricanes are on another losing streak.
This time, it’s even more painful. After scoring goals but failing to keep the puck out of their net against the Montreal Canadiens on Thursday, the same thing happened on Friday against the Washington Capitals.
The first few minutes belonged to the Hurricanes. From the opening puck drop, Carolina pushed the tempo and made life incredibly difficult for Braden Holtby and the Capitals.
All of 47 seconds into the game, it was the Canes’ first line that opened the scoring. Jordan Martinook surprised everyone in the building when he unleashed a ferocious wraparound and deposited the puck in the back of the net.
Sebastian Aho’s assist on the goal extended his point streak to four games.
A few minutes later, after Carolina got several additional chances, the Capitals finally got their first shot on goal.
A one-timer from Alex Ovechkin from the left circle.
Spoiler alert: he scored. He usually does that. It was an unfortunate start for Darling, whose every movement was undoubtedly going to be watched closely.
The defending Stanley Cup champions picked up steam as the opening frame wore on. The Hurricanes started finding themselves pinned in their own end. An offensive zone high-sticking penalty on Dougie Hamilton didn’t help matters.... until it actually did.
The penalty-killing duo of Aho and Teuvo Teravainen pounced on a misplayed puck from John Carlson, sprung a breakaway, and gave the home team their second lead of the night. Teravainen was getting mauled down, but he was able to keep his footing, nudge the puck to Aho, and the Canes’ scoring leader handled the rest.
Through 20 minutes, the Canes had a 2-1 lead.
The first ten minutes of the second period were a lot of fun for the home team which, shockingly, took advantage of not one but TWO power play opportunities.
First, it was Aho who rifled a smoke trail-producing shot top shelf through a screen from Andrei Svechnikov in front of Holtby to make it 3-1. Then, after Tom Wilson did typical Tom Wilson things, the Canes struck again. It was the other Finn who came through as Teravainen lofted one by Holtby to increase the lead to 4-1.
Then, things were a lot less fun.
It took less than six minutes for the Canes to cough up their commanding lead. First, it was Wilson. Then, it was Ovechkin. Ovechkin’s second goal was surrounded by controversy after what appeared to be a blatant interference call that was missed just seconds before the goal.
Rod Brind’Amour nearly shot through the roof as he yelled from the bench, but by that point it was a 4-3 hockey game and no amount of yelling was going to change that.
Less than a minute later, the game was tied for the first time since the first period. An unmarked Travis Boyd deflected a long-range shot by Darling. Tie game.
As if things couldn’t get any worse, not only was the next goal scored by the road team, it was Ovechkin. Again. Hat trick. The great 8 tallied his second hat trick in as many games.
Then, of course, the game continued to be crazy.
On what was nothing short of an early Christmas present wrapped neatly with the tag reading “From: Braden Holtby :)”, Justin Williams potted the game-tying goal. It was all too similar to one Rod Brind’Amour goal from June of 2006.
The game remained tied at the end of regulation. Five minutes of overtime couldn’t change the score, either, despite a 95-second 4-on-3 power play for the Hurricanes to close out the overtime period.
Then, the skills competition decided the game, because why not, right?
After three scoreless innings, Dougie Hamilton did his best Jussi Jokinen impression to break the ice in the top of the fourth. Promptly, Nicklas Backstrom responded and beat Darling. Then, in the bottom of the sixth, Jakub Vrana put the Hurricanes out of their misery.
The final score: 6-5 Capitals.
It was nothing short of a heart-breaking loss for the Hurricanes. They had the Capitals all but beat and they allowed them to come back and beat them on their home ice.
The locker room was gloomy, as you’d expect, after the loss. The players want more. They demand more out of themselves. Friday night’s debacle won’t be forgotten any time soon.
But Brind’Amour kept a level head. His team could have - and should have - beat the defending Cup champs, but they didn’t. It wasn’t a matter of effort, though. It was a matter of a young team looking the part. And a young head coach looking the part.
Where the Hurricanes go from here is entirely up to them. This will be the turning point of the season, as they now sit at NHL .500. Will they feel sorry for themselves and fold, or will they be able to come back from this excruciatingly painful loss?
We’ll get to see for ourselves on Sunday when the Arizona Coyotes come to town.
[On why he didn’t use Aho or Svechnikov in the shootout] You can look at their numbers. They just haven’t scored. In practice they don’t score, either. We do that drill in practice everyday. The same guys kinda, generally, are your better guys. We keep putting them out there because they score in practice. That’s really all it was. Sometimes, you just get a feel, too. (Justin Williams) got the big tying goal, so I thought he’d get (a goal in shootout). His numbers are probably the best on our team, career-wise. We don’t have a go-to guy. It’s not like we can say this guy, for sure, is a shootout specialist. (Dougie Hamilton) might be the closest, actually. In practice, he scores the most. So, when you get to that point, it’s a specialty point for me. To be honest with you, I don’t put a lot of thought into it. I just kinda went with the flow on that one.
[On his discussion with the referees before the third period] He came over to me and just tried to say that he didn’t see it and I said thank you... It was nice that he came over and said something if that’s what he was trying to do.
[On Scott Darling’s performance] (He made a big save) on the power play (Caps’ 2-on-1 shorthanded chance). That was big. Big for us, obviously, there near the end of the game. You can’t fault him on those.
[On the power play in overtime] I don’t think it was indecision. I think we just shot when we shouldn’t have, probably. We got a couple to the net, but it wasn’t right. I take the blame on that. I’m going to change that up. It’s been too long with that same thing.
[On Aho’s big game] He was great. He was playing against the other team’s best players. Wallmark, too, he went head-to-head against their top-two guys and I thought they did a pretty nice job. (Aho)’s been good lately. He’s been driving the ship, for sure.
[On if Williams’ goal reminded him of anything...] (chuckle) no, but I know what you’re getting at.
[On the effort] We came out well. I thought the effort was fine, honestly. The execution is where we lack. We gotta keep drilling that home. The management of the puck... that’s probably the most disturbing thing, for me. We talk about it all the time. Maybe that’s the problem. The more I see it talked about it, the more it seems to keep biting us in the butt. We gotta be better at managing the puck. That’s our downfall right now.
[On how the team responded after he scored the game-tying goal in the third period] After we scored the goal and it was the last three minutes, they were taking it to us. I feel like it should’ve been the other way around. We should have been gunning for that next goal, and not waiting to get it in overtime. I had a little sense of that. (We have to) Just go for it. We need wins. And then you have to win it in the skills competition (shootout). That’s what happens. That’s how the league is sometimes.