Boston was coming off a loss Monday night in New Jersey, was playing the finale of a seven-game road trip and it was a game, if the Canes could win, that would move them within six points of the Bruins for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
So where did it all go so wrong Tuesday night for the Canes in a thumping 5-2 loss?
You can start with defense, which broke down on numerous occasions, including on the fourth and fifth goals in a span of 2:39 midway through the final period after Erik Cole’s second goal pulled the Canes within 3-2.
In goal, Manny Legace certainly didn’t have his sharpest game of the season, and Carolina for the second straight game was unable to finish around a hot goalie.
The results are painful and now more realistic than ever – the Canes are 10 points behind the pack with 13 games left as the recent playoff push after a miserable start to the season went from improbable to nearly impossible.
“There were just a lot of uncharacteristic things we haven’t been doing the last several games,” Cole said. “We were giving up odd-man rushes and we didn’t play structured.”
Cole said there was pressure coming into the game, something the team hadn’t faced all season after many around the league counted the team down-and-out after a franchise-worse start.
“It was addressed that it was going to be like a playoff game – and it needed to be,” Cole said. “Just like playoff games go, you have your ups and downs throughout the game, and it seemed like we got some momentum after their third goal, but to give up two so close to each other, that was pretty deflating.”
Legace did make 32 saves, but allowed three third-period goals to a team that has scored just 46 in the final period all season long.
“I was awful, I’ve got to make some saves,” said Legace. “It’s as simple as that. There’s no blaming anybody else but me. I was awful. This was the biggest game of the year and I’ve got to make those saves. This was a huge game.”
“In my opinion, if it wasn’t for Manny there were far more chances that could have been in the back of our net, so I thought he actually played a heck of a game and it could have been uglier,” said Cole, defending his teammate.
The 5-2 loss comes on the heels of a 4-0 home defeat to Phoenix over the weekend, meaning the Canes will now have to come close to running the table to make it to the postseason.
“It’s pretty tough right now for sure,” Cole said. “It feels as bad as it did early in the year right now, and it’s a feeling we haven’t had in this room for quite a while. And you tack on Saturday’s loss to this one and it makes it that much worse.”
The Canes fell behind 2-0 midway through the second period before gaining some momentum in the final stages as Cole poked in a rebound on the power play, getting his first goal since a hat trick on Dec. 5.
Jamie McBain, making his NHL debut on defense, assisted on the goal as his hard shot from the blue line wasn’t controlled by Tuukka Rask.
The Canes had an abbreviated power play in the final seconds of the period and almost tied the score heading into the third as Jussi Jokinen broke in alone down the right wing, but Rask was able to shut the door just as the buzzer sounded.
But the Canes went down by two again just 45 seconds into the third as Mark Recchi took a pass out of the penalty box and was able to blast one off Legace’s glove on a 2-on-1 break.
Cole scored his second a minute later but the Canes couldn’t pull any closer and Brian Pothier’s misfiring of a pass to Rod Brind’Amour landed on the stick of Michael Ryder, who was all alone in the slot for Boston’s fourth goal. Another defensive miscue less than three minutes later sealed the deal for the Bruins.
Carolina allowed 18 first-period shots to the worst offensive team in the league, but was able to escape the opening minutes trailing just 1-0.
Former Carolina defenseman Dennis Seidenberg figured in on the game’s first goal just 23 seconds after the opening faceoff when his shot from the right point was deflected by Patrice Bergeron past Legace.
The Canes dodged a bullet midway through the period after going down two men for 1:41 as Legace made a nifty sliding pad save on David Krejci, and then on Blake Wheeler in front a few minutes later with Staal in the box for interference.
“Whether it’s the first minute of the last minute it puts you on your heels for a little but we played a great 5-on-3 and got the momentum back and then they get the cheesy goal on a breakaway,” said Legace.
“What they got we gave them,” coach Paul Maurice said. “It’s painful and this is a hard sell, but from the bench you always get a feel for what your players are giving on the ice and they were working, they were fighting. In terms of the sweat they were giving.”
NOTES: Carolina had a seven-game winning streak against the Northeast Division snapped. … McBain played 19:42 in his NHL debut. … Pitkanen played in his 400th career game. … Maurice coached in his 800th career game with the Canes franchise. … Cole’s goal was the 35th power-play score of his career, moving him within two of Sami Kapanen for sixth place on the all-time Hurricanes’ list. … Tuomo Ruutu scored his 100th point for Carolina with an assist on Cole’s second goal. … The Canes allowed five goals for the first time since Jan. 16.