Occasionally here at Triangle Offense, we’re sometimes unnecessarily harsh on Chad LaRose. And this was before he was granted that generous contract and proceeded to lose that spark-plug quality that made him so respected in Carolina. But you have to hand it to him – no matter how he’s playing, he brings people together.
LaRose scored just his second of the season in the third period to thunderous approval from the 16,000 fans in attendance, most of which were brandishing bobbleheads in his likeness. Or Frodo Baggins’. Or Justin Timberlake’s. While they were closer this time, bobblehead design remains an inexact science.
But regardless, the Hurricanes have followed up their first three-game winning streak of the season with a three-game losing streak after dropping a 3-2 contest to the Tampa Bay Lightning.
The game opened with plenty of good scoring opportunities, but few actually made it to the net. It seemed as though someone would inevitably break through, and it finally did as Ryan Malone picked up a rebound through traffic – how he saw it in the middle of a six-player mess is beyond me – and backhanded it underneath Ward.
Carolina wasted two power plays and the best chance of either of them came in the form of a Tampa Bay breakaway.
Never before had a 1-0 lead seemed so commanding. There seemed to be twice as many white jerseys on the ice as read and they always were in possession of the puck.
Right after whiffing on a completely open net, Eric Staal sent a pass to Matt Cullen in front of the net. Every player on the ice seemed to be knocking the puck around in a circle like little kid soccer until Cullen finally shook it loose to make it 1-1.
Niclas Wallin took an interference penalty with two minutes remaining in the second period and after a TV time-out, the Lightning came out looking organized and lethal. Ward kicked away Andrej Mezaros’ shot, had teammate Aaron Ward almost score a beauty on his own net and then watched as, while stumbling, Vincent Lecavalier kicked the puck to his own stick and scored.
In his first game back from injury, and with the crowd showing him all sorts of love, LaRose took a pretty Tim Gleason feed for a mini-breakaway early in the third period. He took a second to corral the puck then shifted forehand to backhand and tucked it behind Antero Nittymaki. The ‘Canes’ promotional staff couldn’t have scripted it better.
LaRose said careful management of his minutes allowed him to get back into a rhythm.
“He rotated me in and didn’t get me too deep early on,” LaRose said. “Mostly physical plays. I think coach used me well and got me in there good.”
Steve Downie scored on a give-and-go and as his consolation prize, Cam Ward had Tom Kostopolous administer a sliding takedown a second afterward.
Perhaps if the ‘Canes had been given another 20 minutes to tie the score again, it would have gone into overtime. But they couldn’t even pull Ward until there were 50 seconds remaining and failed to get a good shot on Nittymaki. The Lightning sent the puck out again and again and that’s all she wrote on a very unproductive two-game home stand.
“We’re not gaining [confidence,]” Cullen said. “It’s frustrating to lose like that. Obviously at a critical point like this, it’s tough to let games go, games that we should be winning.”
Though his return was not nearly as heralded as LaRose's, Sergei Samsonov rejoined Carolina after sitting out eight games and played a solid 11 minutes. Now the team is just waiting on Tuomo Ruutu, Erik Cole, Joe Corvo and Scott Walker to finish healing. Of the four, Cole is probably the closest.
The Hurricanes hit the road this week to take on Atlanta and Philadelphia before returning home Sunday to host the Bruins, who are narrowly hanging onto a playoff spot. Meanwhile, the Hurricanes are now 17 points out of eighth.
Want some more kittens? I think you do.