Just when it looked as though the Hurricanes were turning the corner in the recovery process, the team reverted back to its old tendencies in back-to-back smarting losses against the Phoenix Coyotes, 4-0, and more recently, the Boston Bruins, 5-2. The Bruins looked like a hungry team barely hanging on to eighth place in the Eastern Conference while the Hurricanes looked like a bunch of guys that thought, hey, it might be nice to beat the Bruins tonight maybe…if it doesn’t take too much effort. Carolina sank to ten points back from eighth, in other words, not exactly mathematically eliminated but circling the drain.
Despite these dramatically different outlooks on the rest of the spring, the ‘Canes kept it close through two and a half periods, largely thanks to Erik Cole, who scored goals seven and eight of the year to keep Carolina within reach. But the Bruins cracked the game open midway through the third and never looked back.
“There were a lot of uncharacteristic things that we haven’t been doing the last several games,” Cole said. “It feels as bad as it did early in the year at the moment, and it’s a feeling we haven’t had in this room for quite a while.”
Carolina lost its second straight on home ice after rattling off eight in a row in Raleigh. Saturday night, it was clear the ‘Canes really missed center Brandon Sutter, who sat out the game while nursing a “lower body injury.” Indy was at the game and probably should have posted a game recap, but honestly, it would have been really short and pretty boring, something along the lines of four paragraphs describing each of Phoenix’s goals and one about how listless Carolina was beneath the headline “Bryzgalov 4 Vezina!!!” Even starting goaltender Justin Peters, who absorbed the 4-0 loss, called it a boring game. He would know.
The ‘Canes have fallen back into that bad habit of letting in a few deflating goals early and it happened again Tuesday. Patrice Bergeron deflected a puck past Manny Legace 23 seconds in with assists from two ex-Hurricanes, Mark Recchi and Dennis Seidenberg.
Sutter almost got a goal in his first game back from hiatus. His second chance beat Tuukka Rask but was swept away from the goal crease just in time.
Things looked promising when ‘Canes killed off 1:41 of a five-on-three and then an interference penalty to Eric Staal. Despite not mustering much offensively, the Hurricanes cleaned up well in their own end and stayed in the game. But after a two-on-one in the Hurricanes’ favor, Boston’s Johnny Boychuk was left wide open at the blue line while four Hurricanes gathered around the puck nearby. Brian Pothier didn’t appear to try and stop Boychuk as he plowed to the net.
For whatever reason, the Bruins had it out for Staal tonight. He and Mark Stuart had words – and then fists – in front of the Bruins net during a second period Carolina power play and they jawed all the way to the penalty box. Late in that same Carolina power play, Erik Cole picked up the garbage at the side of the net. Jamie McBain blasted the initial shot from the point, giving him his first NHL assist in his first NHL game.
“I started out a little slow just because of the jitters and everything,” McBain said. “Once I settled in, I got comfortable with the puck and was able to make a few plays.”
McBain experienced Carolina’s now-patented “trial by fire” call-up technique as was thrown onto the power play and played nearly 20 minutes. He quickly experienced how fleeting NHL glory can be when he got stuck as the only man back on a Bruins two-on-one. Recchi made his former team pay again with another bad goal.
Shortly afterward, Cole shifted momentum back in his team’s favor. With Rask flopped, Cole somehow managed to find the puck in a pile of limbs and scored his second of the night.
Pothier forgot which team his was on (it’s a recent thing, okay?) and passed the puck straight to Michael Ryder at the blue line. Ryder sent a line drive past an unscreened Legace to make the score 4-2. Collective fail.
After that, the ‘Canes shut down and it got ugly. David Krejci undressed the Carolina defense with a spin-o-rama move and a shot that got around Legace.
The usually chatty ‘Canes netminder acted as though he’d just bombed a final exam in the locker room. Admittedly, it wasn’t his best game, but his team played terribly in front of him.
“I was awful,” Legace insisted. “I have to make some saves. Simple as that. It was the biggest game of the year and I’ve got to make those saves. It bothers me.”