The Hurricanes of old (circa 2006, that is) made a miraculous reappearance tonight, turning a three-goal deficit into nothing before giving up a late power play goal that cost them the game. Down 4-1 going into the third period, the ‘Canes scored three goals in less than eight minutes to put themselves back into the game after sorry first and second periods, but eventually lost to the Toronto Maple Leafs, 6-4.
One of the few teams whose goal-scoring woes have been worse than Carolina’s of late have been the Maple Leafs, who many agree are sitting pretty in the John Tavares sweepstakes. However, it seems that these days the best way to ignite a struggling offense is to play the Hurricanes. The ‘Canes couldn’t buy their first tally and hemorrhaged goals in the second period, falling behind 4-0 before mounting a Philadelphia-esque comeback in the third period.
“We played forty minutes of pretty much crappy hockey, but during the twelve we played well we almost won it,” Tim Gleason said.
Maurice and the Hurricanes reportedly spent all of Monday’s practice working on offense, and the ‘Canes were certainly bolder in that area. They put on clinics along the boards and sent cross-ice paces everywhere, but the Leafs picked them off like low-lying apples. Justin Williams and Tuomo Ruutu had a clean breakaway called offsides, and Matt Cullen experienced some “technical difficulties” on a breakout of his own.
Although the ‘Canes kept the Leafs to four shots, they left the first period down a goal.
The Hurricanes couldn’t convert on their first power play, and Toronto turned around and shoved it back in their faces. 1:29 after Scott Walker went off for roughing, Ian White sent a line drive sizzling past Ward to make it 1-0.
Tim Gleason may not put many points up, but you have to give him credit where credit is due – he is an entertaining and often brutally honest interview. When Tripp Tracy asked him about the ‘Canes’ physical play after the first, Gleason said he was sick and tired of getting outhit and that his goal for the rest of the game was to “rip somebody’s head off.” He didn’t get a chance to do that before Toronto struck again. 1:40 into the second period, Jason Blake bounced a puck off a wandering Ward’s back from behind the net and made it 2-0.
John Mitchell single-handedly set up Toronto’s third goal. He raced back and tried to pick the puck off of two ‘Canes, succeeding on the second try. He waited until his teammates got back off a line change and then passed it away. The puck bounced around and Nik Hagman was waiting at the back door to roof it.
Though the game looked as though it was headed for another 5-1 decision, Ward still played as though the game was tied. He made a sparkling save while down and out, throwing his stick back to stop the Leaf that was behind him in the crease and swatting at the puck. A ‘Cane thankfully dislodged the net before the almost-goal-scorer could think to lift the puck into the net.
Blake struck again minutes later. He walked in alone and was tripped up by Ward, but maneuvered the puck underneath the Carolina netminder to make the score 4-0.
Matt Cullen finally got the Hurricanes on the board in the waning seconds of the second period off an assist from the red-hot Anton Babchuk, who has arguably been the Hurricanes’ most consistent offensive threat lately (that, for the record, is when you know you’re in trouble.)
After Maurice gave the ‘Canes what Staal called a “swift kick in the butt” during the second intermission and shuffled his lines, the Hurricanes came out with a renewed intensity.
“I was pleased with the way they responded, but not that they had to respond in that manner,” Maurice said.
Tuomo Ruutu gave the Caniacs a reason to “Woo” 1:22 into the third period when he came up on Toskala’s blocker side and fired a shot from well out at a wide angle. Toronto took a penalty on the ensuing play.
“We simplified our game,” Staal said. “We got pucks to the net and started to make chances.”
The suddenly energized Hurricanes had a goal disallowed on that power play, and Staal looked just about as passionately angry as Caniacs have ever seen him. Ian White took a high-sticking penalty soon afterwards to give Carolina a 5-on-3, and Staal extracted his revenge. He scored from the right circle for his team-leading No. 19 of the season and reached skyward in triumph.
Defying all odds, Scott Walker tied it up eight minutes and 20 seconds into the third to complete the comeback.
Bobblehead boy Tim Gleason took an ill-timed high-sticking penalty with just over five minutes left in the game, giving the Leafs a 4-on-3. The Hurricanes almost killed off the first half, but Tomas Kaberle got the puck past Ward.
“I took a stupid penalty,” Gleason said simply. “I cost us the game. I take the blame for that.”
Jason Blake completed his hat trick with an empty-netter and sent the Hurricanes’ fans home disappointed. The Hurricanes have now lost four in a row after winning four, and Cam Ward has allowed an outrageous 18 goals in his last four starts.
The Hurricanes will now leave on a tough three-game road trip that will resume after the All-Star break. Gleason said a road trip might be what the team needs, and Maurice said that before last week’s 0-3 effort on the road, he might have said the same.
“There are three more games until the All-Star break. Why not make those three wins?” Gleason, forever the optimist, asked.