Despite being mathematically eliminated from postseason contention with their 2-1 loss to the New York Rangers on Saturday night, the Carolina Hurricanes entered BB&T Center in Sunrise, Florida on Monday, still with a role to play in the Eastern Conference playoff race - the role of spoiler.
The Panthers, however, had different plans. Thanks to a late goal from Alex Petrovic, the Cats will live to fight another day as they look to make a late surge into the Eastern Conference’s top-eight.
After a handful of chance early on, the Hurricanes broke through and scored the game’s first goal.
At the 3:44 mark, Trevor van Riemsdyk pinched down and cashed in on a loose puck in front of a sprawled out Roberto Luongo. The former Blackhawk netted his third goal of the season and gave the road team an early lead.
That didn’t last long, though.
19 seconds later, Panthers rookie defenseman MacKenzie Weegar out-waited Scott Darling on an odd-man rush and was able to beat him short-side for his second goal of the year. Just like that, the two teams were back on even terms.
The Hurricanes failed to score on a man advantage with just under six minutes to go in the first period. The Panthers were then presented with an opportunity of their own when Elias Lindholm went to the box for hooking with just 33 seconds left in the frame.
On the powerplay, Vincent Trocheck found an uncovered Evgenii Dadonov streaking to the front of the night and, with ten seconds left in the period, the Russian winger - and former property of the Hurricanes - netted his 27th of the season to give his club a 2-1 lead going into the first intermission.
Florida outshot Carolina 19-10 through 20 minutes.
The Hurricanes’ offensive attack started to intensify in the early stages of the middle frame. As the midway point of the game neared, it looked like the Canes were on the verge of getting things tied up and, at the 13:48 mark of period two, they did just that.
Lee Stempniak found Derek Ryan for a short breakaway chance on Luongo, and the pending UFA center made a nifty move in tight and sent a backhand shot top-shelf to make it a 2-2 hockey game.
30 seconds later, Brock McGinn was on the receiving end of an illegal hit into the boards by Florida’s first goal scorer, MacKenzie Weegar. Roland McKeown dropped gloves with the assailant but was given an instigator penalty and a ten-minute misconduct for his role in the incident.
That nullified the powerplay Carolina would have gotten for the boarding call, so the teams stayed at even strength and the period came to a close with the scoreboard reading “2-2”.
A back and forth third period finally rendered a goal at the 12:02 mark. Alex Petrovic’s long-distance wrist shot beat Darling through traffic and gave the Panthers a late 3-2 lead.
With the goalie pulled, the Canes made one final push down the stretch, but they came up just short.
On home ice, the Cats got the big win and will, in turn, remain in the thick of the playoff race. Their 3-2 win will up the already high stakes of their matchup against the Nashville Predators on Tuesday night.
The Hurricanes, on the other hand, will go back to the drawing board in hopes of finishing this failed season on a high note as they take on a pair of playoff-bound teams in their final week of regular season play.
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