As has been the case many times throughout the course of the Carolina Hurricanes’ current nine-year playoff drought, the team was on the precipice of moving into a playoff spot, and ran into the force field that seems to keep them out of the picture.
The Canes had moved themselves into prime positioning by rattling off three straight wins over non-playoff opponents from the weakling Atlantic division, and another one came into Raleigh tonight in the Detroit Red Wings.
After blanking Montreal last night, the Hurricanes moved into a tie with the Philadelphia Flyers for the second and final wild card spot in the Eastern conference.
Carolina’s red-hot power play drew first blood when on the tail end of their first man advantage, Sebastian Aho batted the rebound of a Justin Faulk shot out of midair and past Mrazek to give the Hurricanes a 1-0 edge. Teuvo Teravainen picked up the secondary assist on the marker.
Scott Darling was rock solid in the first period of his return to action, turning aside 15 of 16 first period shots.
The one he didn’t get was a bomb off the stick of Danny DeKeyser, who finagled the puck through a maze of bodies and past Darling’s blocker side.
“I thought he was good,” head coach Bill Peters said of his goalie’s performance on the night. “I thought he was real good to be honest with you. I thought we gave up too much in transition... We gave up too much quality tonight.”
After being outplayed in the initial period, the Canes didn’t do much to turn the tide early in the second.
Darren Helm parted the red sea and left a pass for Trevor Daley, who had what felt like an eternity to position himself in the slot and unfurl a complete laser that beat high to the glove side.
That play was one of a few occasions on the night where Carolina’s team defense acted uncharacteristically. Usually a team that manages the gaps on opposing zone entries well, Hurricane defenders made a bit of a habit of collapsing toward the goal when some of Detroit’s more dangerous defensemen brought the puck in.
Between that and a Red Wing forecheck that was effective in stymying the Canes’ breakout attempts, the first 40 minutes were a slog for the home team.
“They were quick tonight,” Peters said. “I thought they won a lot of foot races and a lot of loose puck battles that they got to first and made us defend.”
On the second night of a back-to-back, the hope was that the Hurricanes would have enough in the tank to dig deep for their second third period come-from-behind win in three games.
Those hopes were short-lived, as Gustav Nyquist streaked down the right wing about seven minutes into the period and beat Darling glove-side high once again.
The Hurricanes got an opportunity on the power play shortly thereafter, when Helm was whistled for kneeing Lee Stempniak.
The Canes held the zone for essentially the entire advantage, but the puck careened sharply out of the zone as time expired, springing Helm for a breakaway in which he slapped one past Darling from in close to put the game out of reach at 4-1.
“There were a couple chances on [that power play],” Sebastian Aho said. “Sometimes those will go on, and today they didn’t... that’s hockey.”
The Hurricanes return to action on Super Bowl Sunday as a San Jose Sharks team that has played well of late rolls into town.
“We’re gonna have to regroup,” co-captain Jordan Staal said. “Have a good practice tomorrow, and get ready for an afternoon game that we’ve been okay at... hopefully we can have some fresh legs and be ready to go at one o’clock.”
“It’s a huge game,” Lee Stempniak remarked. “You can’t let the wins or the losses really sit with you too long; you have to move on.”
Rank the Performances
Here’s your chance to weigh in on how you think the team performed tonight. Upvote the players you think played well and downvote the ones who didn’t.