The Carolina Hurricanes entered tonight’s matchup with the Pittsburgh Penguins seeking a win to take over third place in the Metro division. Instead, tonight’s 3-1 loss, combined with a likely win by the Columbus Blue Jackets over the Buffalo Sabres (Columbus is currently leading 4-0 as of the end of the second period), will drop them into the second wild card spot to start the last week of the regular season.
A first period that began with an early jump for the Penguins, but had started to even out for the Canes approaching the halfway point, turned disastrous in a hurry courtesy of two goals from the Penguins’ fourth line. With 9:15 remaining in the first period, Garret Wilson punched in a puck that initially appeared to be covered by McElhinney’s blocker, and was upheld as a good goal after a challenge for goaltender interference. Then former Hurricane Matt Cullen, who dished the primary assist to Wilson for the first goal, held onto the puck just long enough for Olli Maatta to play decoy on a 2-on-1 before firing past McElhinney with 75 seconds remaining to take a 2-0 lead into the locker room.
The Canes were left short-handed in a 4-on-3 situation for 1:34 to begin the second period after a late skirmish in the first between Justin Williams and Patric Hornqvist, followed by a tripping penalty to Justin Faulk. They killed off the penalty but unfortunately in the process lost Calvin de Haan, who suffered an upper body injury from a shove from Jake Guentzel and sliding into the boards. De Haan headed immediately went to the locker room, in obvious pain, and did not return to the game. His long-term status is unknown.
It took the Canes over 11 minutes into the second frame to register their first shot on goal, despite an earlier power play. They picked up the pace and began to control possession in the last half of the period, though with no reward.
The Penguins delivered the knockout blow a mere 46 seconds into the third, when Hornqvist took advantage of loose defensive coverage to seal the game for all intents and purposes. Jaccob Slavin tallied a power play goal with 7:48 remaining to spoil Matt Murray’s shutout, but they weren’t able to convert further despite a 20-shot effort to close out the third.
The Canes finished the game with 38 shots on goal, and an additional 23 shots were blocked by the Penguins. Justin Williams led the Canes with seven shots on goal. Jaccob Slavin had five shots on goal and led all Canes players with 24:59 TOI. Curtis McElhinney made 25 saves on 28 shots. Adam Johnson, playing in his fifth NHL game, notched his first two career points with assists on the goals by Wilson and Cullen.
As far as the post-season is concerned, the loss drops the Canes four points behind the Penguins in the Metro with three games remaining for both teams. They are tied with 41 ROWs, and the Penguins gain the head-to-head tiebreaker with a 2-0-1 record (Canes record is 2-2-0). Should Columbus hold on to win their game against the Sabres in regulation, they would jump into the first wild card spot with 94 points (and lead the Canes with 44 ROWs).
The Canes are back in action on Tuesday night to take on the Maple Leafs in Toronto.