LaRose’s first goal in two months tied the score early in the third and fired up the RBC Center crowd like only No. 59 can, but for the second straight home game the Canes coughed up the go-ahead goal later in the period en route to a 3-2 loss to the Lightning.
Downie’s game-winner came just 36 seconds after another dismal power-play opportunity for the Canes and was a carbon copy of the goal scored by Atlanta’s Ilya Kovalchuk that beat Carolina on Saturday as Martin St. Louis was allowed to race up the ice untouched before dumping it off to a wide-open Downie.
“We worked on taking away the speed off the rush and then we give up the same type of goal going in,” coach Paul Maurice said. “It was the focus of practice yesterday, too. We give up too much ice because of a lack of confidence and a lack of physicality and it has burned us with both teams.”
LaRose was sidelined for 17 games with a left knee injury and began his return on the fourth line, but like many times in his career and throughout a season, he made the steady climb as the game progressed and was on the ice late when the Canes were seeking the game-tying goal.
“He brings energy, and some bark and some grit,” Maurice said. “I can tell you this, this young man was playing on a (bad) knee for an awfully long time that most people wouldn’t have. He was playing with an injury that he necessarily couldn’t make worse, but it was all pain tolerence, and it got to the point where he just couldn’t skate on it any more.”
Getting LaRose back was the only bright spot in the two-game homestand in which the Canes lost to the Thrashers and Lightning to fall two games under .500 at home, washing away any type of momentum the club was trying to establish early in the month.
“Rosey was great and it was good to see him back,” said Matt Cullen, who scored Carolina’s other goal. “He means so much to this team and it was nice to see him get that one. Boy, he looked good, he looked fast and he looked quick and he was all over the puck. You wondered how his hands would be after such a long layoff but he looked really good with the puck. He’s such a spark and he brought a ton to the game tonight.”
LaRose, with a team-high six hits and three shots in 11:40 of ice time, admitted it has been difficult to watch the Canes slowly sinking out of the playoff chase without being in the lineup to help.
“It has been terrible (watching),” LaRose said. “It’s really tough when you are out of the lineup, you still feel it when you lose.”
The Canes lost to the Lightning at home for the first time since Nov. 8, 2007 – a span of eight straight. And just how bad was Carolina’s power play? Well, the Hurricanes went 0-for-4 and didn’t register a single shot on their final three attempts to fall to 13 games under .500.
The Canes produced little offensive firepower until an extended shift deep in the Tampa Bay zone late in the second produced Carolina’s first goal as Eric Staal made a strong move to the goal, creating a mass of humanity. The puck popped loose and was flipped into the net by Cullen for his ninth of the season.
But like so many times this season the lead was short lived. Niclas Wallin took an interference penalty on a streaking St. Louis and fellow Cane killer Vincent Lecavalier scored on the power play 46 seconds after Cullen has given Carolina its lead.
Lecavalier now has 61 points in 64 career games against the Hurricanes, moving him into a tie for 24th all-time in opposition scoring.
LaRose and Sergei Samsonov (seven games missed) returned to the lineup, LaRose doing so on Chad LaRose Bobblehead Night. He was able to draw a penalty late in the first and almost scored less than three minutes in but couldn’t free his stick in a scramble in front of the Tampa Bay net.
The Canes managed just three shots on Antero Niittymaki in the opening 17:14 of the first period as Tampa Bay jumped on top 1-0. One-fourth of Ryan Malone’s 20 goals have come against Carolina this season as he notched his fifth against the Canes midway through the first as the Lightning dominated much of the offensive zone time in the period.
NOTES: Cullen scored his first goal in 12 games, although he has posted 10 assists in that span. … Staal has six points in his last five games since returning from personal leave. … The Canes fell to 1-16-4 when trailing after two periods. … Cam Ward started his 16th straight game in net. … Tim Gleason’s assist on the LaRose goal gave him his 13th point, surpassing his total in 70 games last season. … Niittymaki improved to 7-2-2 all-time against Carolina.