RBC CENTER/RALEIGH - Carolina made a baby step in the right direction during the latter portion of a 4-3 loss to the New York Islanders, picking up one point and coming within 14.4 seconds of a chance to seal their third win of the season in the shootout. Tuomo Ruutu sparked the 'Canes again and got his third goal in two games and Tim Gleason tied it up late to complete a three-goal comeback and force the extra inning. There were signs of life on the Carolina bench tonight, but the Islanders started and finished stronger.
Even though it looked as though the ‘Canes had some jump early, Gleason took a roughing penalty three minutes in and heaped an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on top when he made his displeasure known.
That was when some kooky Friday the 13th luck bit the ‘Canes in the butts, as if they needed it. It took the Islanders 44 seconds to score one of the weirdest goals I’ve seen in a while. Matt Moulson sent a shot high and well over the net. It ricocheted of the glass perfectly and came right back in front of the net, where John Tavares batted it out of midair while Legace and his defensemen were looking around wildly.
The Islanders scored on the back end of the pair of penalties as well to sink the ‘Canes into a deeper hole. Mark Streit blasted one into the net with minimal traffic in front of Legace, who probably should have had that one.
“[Gleason]’s an honest guy. He doesn’t take a lot of stupid penalties,” Mo said after the game. “Usually an unsportsmanlike doesn’t come that early in the game – you get a bit of a lather, not a bake sale going on.” (Huh?)
The Islanders hit two posts in their quest to open a larger lead, but after an Aaron Ward tripping penalty expired, a pile-up in front of the net resulted in a 3-0 New York lead.
Brandon Sutter played with Erik Cole and Ray Whitney on the top line and finished with two assists.
“Our first was a little slow again, but we got through it,” Sutter said. “I can see how close we are. It’s just a matter of a bounce or two.”
In the second period, Ruutu picked up the puck right in front of a prone Martin Biron and easily put it top shelf for his third goal in two games and Carolina’s first power play goal in 26 attempt.
That tally gave the flatlining ‘Canes a charge straight to the heart. Ray Whitney tipped an Andrew Alberts shot past Biron at even strength to bring the ‘Canes within one, and all they had to pray for was that the Islanders didn’t sneak one in and shift the momentum back again, because that has been Carolina’s Achilles Heel all season.
Our buddies who compile the stats let us know that it was the first time the ‘Canes had outscored an opponent in the second period through 17 games.
Blake Comeau earned a double-major for high sticking that spanned two periods, but the ‘Canes couldn’t buy a break or tie it up with all the cutesy moves in their arsenal. Each play had just one too many passes as Carolina still lacks that confidence to just put it on net.
But first period scapegoat Gleason’s simple slap shot from the point squeezed past Biron in between his pad and the post with just over two minutes remaining in the third period. After scoring his first and only goal of the season in Game 2 of the first round of the New Jersey series last year, Gleason already has two through mid-November.
“We’re not shooting the puck enough. Timmy’s at the end wasn’t a great goal, but it was a shot to the net,” Mo said. “For whatever reason, that’s the one area of individual confidence that you wonder about, why you won’t put the puck on the net.”
With Legace under at least three players, ten seconds left and the puck inches from the crease, it looked as though it was all over. But somehow the ‘Canes swept it out and preserved at least a point for the first time in three weeks.
Pitkanen overskated the puck after a gift-wrapped opportunity and the ‘Canes looked a little tentative, as though they couldn’t believe they had somehow survived regulation. (I had a little trouble believing it myself.) Bryan Rodney almost had his first goal of the season in spectacular fashion when he was left alone with the puck on his stick right in front of Biron, but the rebound went over the net. No lucky careens that time.
Kyle Okposo scored with 14 seconds remaining in overtime off a two-on-two in which Rodney and Pitkanen missed their marks, sending the ‘Canes home without a win for the fourteenth straight time.
“It’s a tough one to take,” Rodney said. “The mistake I made at the end cost us, and to do that to the rest of the guys in the locker room is tough to swallow right now.”
“We fought back and didn’t give up,” he added. “We leaned on each other and I think we showed a lot.”
Mo said he didn’t blame Rodney for the final goal.
“We got into it and back into it because of his shot on that first goal,” he said. “That was as close to a hard fought game as we’ve had.”
Though the points system has completely changed and ties have been abolished during the two streaks, making them hard to compare, this hasn’t happened since the 1992-1993 season.
It’s hard not to see this one as a bit of an improvement. The ‘Canes lost yet again and couldn’t put together a full effort, but they came back from a three-goal deficit for the first time in nearly two years and more than one player was on at the same time tonight, which is something that couldn’t be said during most of this miserable streak.
“The only good feeling – but it’s still a good feeling – is that our team’s still willing to fight,” Mo said. “We were able to mentally block out the hole we’re in, and that gives you a chance to come back to the rink tomorrow.”
It would have been a glorious win if the ‘Canes had been able to pull it off, but perhaps some of that positive energy will be channeled into Sunday’s early afternoon tilt with the Minnesota Wild. The loss in Minnesota was the one that arguably started this sinkhole, so maybe there will be some sort of crazy parallelism at the RBC Center Sunday.