RBC CENTER/ RALEIGH—You know that dream in which you find yourself, naked, in a classroom, and the teacher is passing out a test that will determine your entire year’s grade for the class, but you somehow hadn’t known about it and didn’t study at all?
The Hurricanes played out that nightmare last night, embarrassed 8-1 by the Philadelphia Flyers, ending a three-game home win streak. Jeff Carter collected a hat trick and Danny Briere had a pair of goals and an assist as only four Flyers failed to mark the scoresheet. It was Carolina's eighth straight loss to Philadelphia.
On Veteran's Day, you could tell which team had playoff battle scars and which had the unblemished skin of one of the youngest lineups in the league. The Flyers fell in last season's Stanley Cup finals to Chicago in six hard-fought games, and appear armed and ready to reprise that deep playoff run. The Canes, however, were stripped bare of any resemblance to the efficient, high-scoring unit fans had thought they were after hanging seven goals each on the cellar-dwelling New York Islanders and Edmonton Oilers.
The Flyers have an elite defensive corps, not only adept at blocking shots and clearing net-mouth traffic in a bruising fashion, but also able to create instant offense with quick breakout passes to curling forwards from deep in their own end of the ice. The Canes never sustained any disruption of their relentless, systematic game.
Perhaps coach Paul Maurice should have played the fourth line more. Only tabbed for four shifts in the first period and five in the second, the trio of Tom Kostopoulos, Jon Matsumoto, and Patrick Dwyer created chances off the forecheck and dug pucks out of the corners. Kostopoulos even fought Flyers pugilist Daniel Carcillo early in the second period, but nothing would spark the Canes on this night.
"Sometimes when you're playing well and goals are coming easily, you start thinking it's easy. And I think we forgot how hard it was to win the way we were, and we got off that. Philadelphia definitely outworked us. We're a team that can't take any nights off," Kostopoulos noted in a quiet locker room after the game.
But the Flyers hardly blinked. A few minutes later, Ville Leino discarded Jay Harrison as he looped around the net and fed a backhand pass past an oblivious Anton Babchuk to Briere at the far post for an easy goal. The Canes hung in there for the balance of the first period, but late chances by Brandon Sutter, Tuomo Ruutu, and Dwyer were calmly handled by goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky—a rookie we've not seen play this well since, well, Cam Ward. Erik Cole took an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty standing up for a teammate with 1:28 left in the frame, and the Flyers needed only ten seconds to extend their lead on the power play. And, that quickly, the game was out of reach.
The goal wrote large the gap between these two teams. The Flyers executed a set play as if it was in practice. I expected the puck to leave a dry-erase line on the ice as the Flyers won the faceoff to Kimmo Timonen at one point, who moved the puck to Chris Pronger at the other, open point as Hartnell and Carter positioned themselves uncontested in front of Ward. Ward saved Pronger's shot, and Carter easily scooped the rebound in. The Carolina skaters appeared to be those bubble hockey players, stuck in slots in the ice, watching with cardboard eyes. Ward would give way to Justin Peters early in the second period.
I came away from this game awed at how much Flyers captain Mike Richards loves to play shorthanded. On penalty kills in the second period, he was a blur, forcing Jussi Jokinen to hook him as he barged up the center of the ice, dropping his shoulder to steal a lazy pass from a waiting Sergei Samsonov, and directing teammates’ clearing passes by pointing his stick over his head.
Early in the third period, Richards taught Maurice a lesson about why you don't put four forwards on a power play, poaching a pass to the point that Eric Staal failed to handle with his skate. Peters stopped Richards on a breakaway, but Richard looped around the net, converting a pass from a trailing Claude Giroux. It was his twenty-first career shorthanded goal.
Chad LaRose applied a little lipstick to this pig when he banged in a nice centering pass from Babchuk, but Hartnell answered in a humiliating fashion just 18 seconds later. Peters hesitated after venturing to the far boards to play a puck. Hartnell collected it and pushed it into the vacant net before the fans had finished cheering the LaRose goal. Ouch.
The Canes need to forget about this one as they head to Montreal for a Saturday tilt. Just as one awakens from that bad dream, shakes one's head a little, and comes back to reality.