RALEIGH — With five games remaining, the Carolina Hurricanes’ chances of making the Stanley Cup playoffs depend on them getting back to playing their game - and fast.
A highlight-reel goal from Warren Foegele to give the Canes the lead, but the Washington Capitals came from behind to finish off the home-and-home sweep on Tuesday night, taking a 3-2 win to drop the Canes further into postseason jeopardy.
The Canes nearly got started on the opening shift of the game. Nino Niederreiter was in the slot and took a perfect pass from Sebastian Aho on the first rush after the opening faceoff, but he whiffed on his shot and it trickled harmlessly wide of Braden Holtby. It was Niederreiter, though, who eventually opened the scoring, taking advantage of some choppy ice to poke home a loose puck from the side of the net at 4:31 of the first period with Holtby out of position.
But 42 seconds later, Brett Connolly took advantage of an ill-advised Micheal Ferland attempt to keep the zone and beat Curtis McElhinney on a 2-on-1 bar down to make it 1-1 and put the PNC Arena crowd back in the tense state it was in before Niederreiter had scored.
The first period was not kind to the Hurricanes, who were outshot 7-5 and generally looked a step behind most of the period before getting the wind in their sails late in the period. During the first TV timeout of the first period, Canes captain Justin Williams was angrily smacking his stick along the boards in front of the Carolina bench, telling his team that it was time to shape up.
It took a while, but midway through the second period a ferocious forechecking shift by the line of Andrei Svechnikov, Jordan Staal and Teuvo Teravainen nearly resulted in Svechnikov scoring a lacrosse-style goal from behind the net. The message was, by then, clearly received.
And then Foegele happened.
Taking a lead pass from Justin Faulk into the neutral zone, Foegele poked the puck through Nick Jensen’s legs, blew past the Caps defenseman, pulled the puck back to get around a Holtby pokecheck attempt and tapped it into the yawning cage.
WARREN FOEGELE. WHOA. He dances around Jensen for a highlight reel goal to make it 2-1 Hurricanes over the Capitals in the second period. pic.twitter.com/HkAg3xHpRU— Brett Finger (@brett_finger) March 29, 2019
But 1:35 into the third period, Jakub Vrana took a pass from Evgeny Kuznetsov on a rush through the neutral zone and skated past Micheal Ferland like the Canes winger was standing still, putting it past a helpless McElhinney to tie the game again. John Carlson missed on a tap-in two minutes later, a carbon copy of the go-ahead goal on Tuesday, and the Canes were back on their heels once again like they were to start the game.
From there, the Caps controlled the balance of play, cycling the Canes to death in the offensive zone while denying Carolina the opportunity to set anything up in front of Holtby. But with 7:50 left, Niederreiter had his best chance of the game, playing the puck off a terrible Caps turnover behind the net in the low slot. Much to the Canes’ consternation, Holtby made a beautiful save to shut it down.
And with 4:56 to go, a perfectly-placed tip by Nic Dowd gave the Caps their first lead of the night. Jensen, making amends for his undressing by Foegele earlier in the game, took a knuckling shot from the right point that Dowd just got a tip to and put it through McElhinney’s five hole.
The Canes’ first power play of the night, and their first in more than 130 minutes of hockey, came less than a minute later, after Brooks Orpik tripped Aho cutting across the ice just inside the Washington blue line. The Canes had a couple of good chances, but a stingy Caps penalty kill prevented most shots getting through to Holtby, and despite McElhinney being lifted for the extra attacker with two minutes left, the Canes were unable to cash in, leaving them stuck on 91 points and piling ever more pressure on the weekend back-to-back against the Flyers and Penguins.
They Said It
We played really well. I thought it was a great game by us. A lot better than two nights previous. I felt like, certainly we were invested and everyone played hard. It just didn’t go our way. It hurts tons. Those are real tough losses. We played well and didn’t get the outcome. That's hockey. It happens. You don't always get the bounces, that's for sure, and it’s just tough this time of year. We just have to pick the pieces up and come back tomorrow. It's a new day.
The guys are devastated in there. They know what’s at stake. I thought they gave everything they had. We’ll regroup tomorrow and come back at it. I think if we play like that in the remaining games, we’ll be in good shape.
I liked our third period. We blew one coverage on a set breakout that’s pretty standard, and we just took a breath on it. They’ve got good players, that’s what happens and it ends up in your net. It’s a tough loss for a lot of reasons, but it happens.
It’s proably tougher [to come back from a loss like that]. If you’re going to lose, you want to lose 8-1 or where everyone stinks. We know we played a pretty good game, and their best players didn't get on the score sheet. You do the game plan and it just didn’t work out. Those are tough losses. I know how those guys feel in there. I feel it. That’s the way it goes sometimes.
I think we have to be proud of the way we played tonight. We’re disappointed we didn’t win the game, but after the last game to come out and it’s just a play here or there and we win that game. It definitely stings, it doesn't feel good, but there’s no time to feel sorry for ourselves. We just have to pick our heads up and come back. It’s a short turnaround, we have a day and then an afternoon game. Just have to come back with a positive mindset. We’re in a good spot, we just have to remember that.
We had our chances. You can’t say we didn’t have chances to win or tie the game late. They scored when they got a break and we couldn’t find the back of the net.
You can’t fault anybody’s effort tonight. Obviously we’re going to see a couple things we could have done differently, try to shore those things up, then come back Saturday hungry to get back on the winning track.
I thought we were definitely hungry enough to win that hockey game. They had a couple great chances, we had a couple of good chances, especially myself - had a couple of grade A’s. I didn't put them in unfortunately. That's the difference in the game right there.
At the end of the day you have to take it as playoff hockey already. You have to forget what happened tonight, you have to look forward to the next game and it’s just around the corner. We’ve got it in our control, we have to take care of business now.
Obviously you’re in a position which you want to stay in. It’s a battle, and it’s going to be a grind to the end, and it’s probably going to be decided to the last game. I think we’re all prepared for it, we know what's at stake, and we want to do whatever it takes to get into the playoffs.
- Let’s get the obvious out of the way first. Does this hurt the Canes’ chances? Yes, it does to an extent. But Niederreiter’s comment about taking care of business is prescient. And the fact that the Blue Jackets/Canadiens game didn’t go to OT (the Jackets won 6-2) is a much bigger deal than it might seem.
- Ignore the Blue Jackets for a second. The Canadiens are the team with the target on their back. The magic number is eight. If the Canes earn four more points than the Habs the rest of the way, regardless of what else happens, they’re in.
- And to be honest, given the schedules, that should be the expectation. The Canes close by hosting the Flyers, at the Penguins, at the Maple Leafs, home to the Devils, and at the Flyers. As for the Habs: they visit the Jets, host the Lightning, at the Caps and home to the Leafs.
- Foegele’s goal was an all-timer, but Niederreiter had some astoundingly good chances. He’s still just under a point per game since the trade which, you’ll recall, was one-for-one.
- The contrast between Brind’Amour the coach and Brind’Amour the player was evident tonight. I covered Rod after games like that, and he would have been rueing all the chances that went by the wayside. As a coach, it’s all about managing expectations. He felt this one, just like his players, but it’s incumbent upon him as a coach to point out that the team played really well, and that message (see what Martinook said) seems to have taken hold. Coaching is very much a psychological effort, and Rod’s starting to show that he’s learned that lesson this year.
- Justin Williams is the oldest NHL player to hit 50 points this season. He’s also the sole person keeping me from being older than the entire Canes’ roster. May he never retire.
- The Canes can get halfway home this weekend, and it starts with a huge afternoon game Saturday against the Flyers. They’ll practice at noon tomorrow at RCI. We’ll see you then.