Throw in a rookie goalie and defensive miscommunication occurred Sunday night against a Buffalo squad trying to nail down the Northeast Division title as the Canes dropped a 5-3 decision to the Sabres.
It wasn’t the offensive activity that killed that Canes, since Buffalo generated just 20 shots. It was how they were scored, three coming in a span of seven minutes to turn the game instantly.
“We had a few miscues, but our compete level was good the whole game,” Eric Staal said. “We worked extremely hard, but this is still tough to swallow, losing this big game.”
Just like in a 5-2 loss to Boston at the RBC Center five days ago, Carolina needed this one to keep its late playoff push within realistic range, considering the Boston Bruins won earlier in the day to extend their margin over the Canes to eight points with 10 games left.
But despite taking seven of a possible eight points recently against other Eastern Conference leaders Pittsburgh and Washington, the Sabres were able to beat the desperate Canes and didn’t receive much pushback until late in the third period.
Staal’s power-play goal with three minutes left made it interesting, especially with the Canes still on the power play and coach Paul Maurice pulling Manny Legace for an extra attacker.
But nothing got past Ryan Miller in the final stages as the Canes lost at home for the third time in the last four games.
“We needed to have a shot-first mentality and we were probably guilty of passing too many pucks around him and to compete against him you’ve got to fire it from everywhere,” Staal said of the team’s attack in the first two periods. “We got better at it as the game went along.
“At the end is what the Carolina Hurricanes do, we don’t quit,” added Staal. “We continued to try to get back into it. We had some really, really good looks to get us within one with 45 seconds left and you never know. We continued to buzz, continued to attack.”
Carolina fell behind in the first period and gave up four second-period goals as they tried to play catch-up against Miller – never a good thing as Buffalo improved to 25-0-0 this season when leading after two periods.
Peters overcommitted three minutes later on a Buffalo power play and Hecht was able to score easily on a wraparound.
“Justin Peters has played very well for us this year and really proved a lot in my eyes and his next start will be a challenge for him to get back on his horse,” Maurice said. “He made some great saves for us (Saturday) and I don’t want to lay this at our goaltender’s feet, but clearly up can’t give up five goals on 15 shots.”
But that goaltending change didn’t stop the defensive bleeding as Legace allowed a goal on his first shot as yet another Buffalo player – this time Tim Kennedy – was able to skate freely to the front of the net for a nifty backhander.
The Canes didn’t generate much offense against Miller in the opening 20 minutes, passing up several good attempts with over-passing and getting stoned by the USA Olympic star on a close-in opportunity by Zach Boychuk.
“I was really close,” Boychuk said. “It went through Chad LaRose’s legs and bounced right out to me and it kind of surprised me. If I could have went far side or could have raised it a little bit it would have been a different 1-0.”
Meanwhile, the Sabres were able to strike first on the power play with 6:13 left in the period after Peters lost his goalie stick on a poke check.
Miller misplayed a clearing attempt 2:07 into the final period that allowed Brandon Sutter to close within two of a 20-goal season, but the Canes weren’t able to convert on the power play a minute later against the NHL’s top penalty killing unit in an attempt to crawl back into the game.
NOTES: Carolina was 9-3-3 against NHL division leaders this season before losing to the Sabres. … The Canes allowed two or more power-play goals for just the second time in the last 26 games after doing it 13 times in the opening 46. … Rod Brind’Amour moved within 25 of 1,500 career games. … McBain’s assist on Staal’s goal extended his point streak to four games. … Maurice said Cam Ward would skate alone at practice Monday, giving the rest of the team off. … After scoring 16 goals over a 20 game stretch, Jussi Jokinen has now gone six games without a goal.