RALEIGH — The Carolina Hurricanes, fresh off of a franchise-record nine-point five-game road trip, were welcomed home by a team that had been very hot in their own right.
Winners of back-to-back games, the Florida Panthers came rolling into Raleigh. Joel Quenneville’s club sought revenge over the Hurricanes, who won each of the first two meetings between the clubs earlier in the season.
They proved to be too much for the Hurricanes to handle. In front of a near-sellout crowd, the Canes dropped their first game in regulation since December 3 in Boston, 4-2 to the Panthers.
It was a promising game at times, though.
After a flurry of chances both ways, the Panthers scored the game’s first goal. Pressured in the offensive zone, Martin Necas dropped the puck back to the point to Jake Gardiner, who had Evgenii Dadonov flying towards him. Under pressure, Gardiner mishit a cross-clear attempt that led to the Panthers flying the zone and Dadonov breaking in all alone on Petr Mrazek.
Dadonov scored, and the Cats were up 1-0 at the 7:07 mark of the first period.
At the 9:52 mark of the second period, Andrei Svechnikov attempted to cycle a puck along the boards toward the point, and he did so, but not without taking a penalty. Despite it being on a follow-through, Svechnikov got whistled for high-sticking over the strenuous objections of Rod Brind’Amour.
Whether it was the correct call or not didn’t matter 1:42 later when the Panthers scored to extend their lead to two goals.
A point shot from Aaron Ekblad deflected off the big body of veteran Brian Boyle, who was camped out at the top of the crease, and beat a hung-out-to-dry Mrazek. Carolina’s second-ranked NHL penalty kill couldn’t keep Florida at bay.
Only 4:14 later, the Hurricanes took another offensive zone penalty. Lucas Wallmark used his stick to interfere with a Florida player who was skating toward Gardiner as he carried the puck down the left wing.
On their second shorthanded opportunity of the second period (and the game), the Hurricanes fared much better. Joel Edmundson fended off a very close call with Jonathan Huberdeau along the goal line, and the Canes ultimately killed off the Wallmark minor.
A late-period scrum brought some more unfortunate news for Carolina.
Sparks flew after a collision involving Andrei Svechnikov and Brett Connolly. Svechnikov got two minutes for high-sticking and an additional 10-minute misconduct. Connolly got a lone misconduct penalty. Edmundson stepped in and dropped the gloves with Josh Brown, but the refs separated them. Those two got matching unsportsmanlike conduct penalties.
When it was all said and done (after what felt like hours of deliberation), the Panthers had a two-minute power play that extended 1:57 into the third period.
And on that power play, Florida made it 3-0.
A big breakdown in the defensive zone from Carolina’s usually stellar penalty kill unit led to Huberdeau walking in all alone on Mrazek, who opted to dive out and try to poke the puck off his stick. That didn’t work out. Huberdeau held onto the puck, avoided Mrazek, and made him and the Canes look silly.
After a failed power play chance of their own just a few moments later, the Hurricanes did finally get on the board.
A Dougie Hamilton point shot was stopped, but through the maze of bodies, Teuvo Teravainen found the rebound and Nino Niederreiter deflected the puck by Chris Driedger and brought the Canes within two goals.
The Canes hoped that would be their ticket directly back into the hockey game, but a quick comeback goal from the absolutely red-hot Noel Acciari felt like a dagger of sorts.
He rushed down the right wing and sent a relatively harmless shot from a good distance by Mrazek. It marked goal number seven in three games for Acciari, who tallied hat tricks in each of his last two games entering Saturday.
Like clockwork, the Hurricanes were gifted another chance to hop back into the game. And to their credit, this time they took advantage.
Boyle’s tripping penalty led to a quick power play strike by Lucas Wallmark. Great net-front work from Niederreiter resulted in him eventually circling the wagons with the puck behind the Florida goal. He made a slick pass back in front to Wallmark, who one-timed it up and over Driedger’s shoulder.
The goal cut the Panthers’ lead in half with 7:01 to go in the third period.
The Hurricanes managed to create a number of scoring chances late, including a Sebastian Aho shot that hit the outside of the goal post, but the Cats held them at bay and the game ended with Carolina on the wrong side of 4-2 final score.
With the win, Florida improved to 18-12-5 on the season. They boosted themselves over the Buffalo Sabres and into third place in the Atlantic Division. With the loss, Carolina fell to 22-12-2 on the season. They remain tied in points with the Pittsburgh Penguins, who currently hold the third-place spot in the Metropolitan Division.