That was Carolina’s story on this night, as Atlanta was able to withstand a parade to the penalty box in the first period before taking control against a team that appeared mentally out of gas en route to a 4-0 loss Saturday night.
Carolina’s late-season push toward the playoffs officially was put on life support by this loss, which left the club nine points out the Eastern Conference’s final postseason spot with seven games left – five of them on the road.
“This was one of those games where we needed to have a little more fight at the start,” Staal said. “It’s frustrating because this was a big home-and-home (series) and I thought if we could beat them both times we would have been one point behind them and you never know if Boston starts losing a bunch. But they seemed to have a little bit more desperation than we did to start the game.”
The Canes did come alive in the third period with 19 shots on Johan Hedberg, who was playing his first game this season against the Canes.
“But obviously the hole was too big,” Staal said.
The Thrashers swept the three games against the Canes at the RBC Center, outscoring Carolina 15-7, to pull within two points of a playoff spot. The Hurricanes, meanwhile, have allowed 43 shots in each of their last two games and were shut out for the second time in two weeks at home. Phoenix also beat the Canes 4-0.
Atlanta struck for two goals 57 seconds apart midway through the second after Carolina managed to register just one shot on its first four power plays.
Rich Peverley’s goal was his sixth in nine career games against the Canes, while Evgeny Artyukhin’s goal rung in off the far past from a sharp angle, surprising Manny Legace.
“On that second goal I thought that puck was going wide and I was off my angle by a foot,” Legace said. “It hits the post and goes in the net. If it’s going our way it hits and post and goes out.”
Atlanta grabbed a three-goal lead with 2:17 left in the period when rookie Niclas Bergfors cashed in on a 2-on-1 as Carolina allowed 29 shots through 40 minutes against a team that had scored just one goal in its last two games.
“We got beat three times off the rush and that’s how this team has beat us this year,” coach Paul Maurice said. “Some of it is a speed issue, but we were just caught in the middle on so much, whether we’re punching or not. We want to be aggressive, we want to pinch, but we’re late on two forwards twice.”
Atlanta added a late power-play goal to cap off its 33rd win.
The Canes got two power play chances in the opening 8:30 but didn’t register a shot against an Atlanta squad that had surrendered 82 first-period goals this season.
While the Canes managed just six shots in the opening 20 minutes, Legace was under siege, having to stop six of Atlanta’s 17 first-period shots during a Thrashers’ power play to keep the game scoreless heading into the second as the Thrashers had 10 scoring chances to two for Carolina.
“It changed the game a lot, but you’ve got to take your hat off to them,” Legace said of the momentum swing after a series of poor power plays. “They played pretty hard on the penalty kill, they were flying around and didn’t give us an ince out there. We just couldn’t get it in, couldn’t get a break out there.”
Atlanta is 19th overall in the NHL on the penalty kill, but fifth on the road. However, the Canes were 7-for-20 this season (35 percent) with the man advantage against Atlanta before hitting the skids in this one.
“They did a good job on their forecheck, taking away our options,” Staal said. “We didn’t get anything carrying it into the zone, where the last time we played them we really broke them down. Tonight, they made adjustments and that was key for them, and once we were in the zone we just didn’t fight enough for pucks.”
NOTES: Cam Ward was back in uniform after missing 18 games with a back injury. … Carolina was shut out for the sixth time this season. … The 86 shots were the most allowed in consecutive games by the Canes. … The Hurricanes lost 42 of 61 faceoffs. … Staal and Jussi Jokinen are tied for the team scoring team with 58 points with seven games left. Staal has won the scoring title twice before. … Joni Pitkanen played more than 27 minutes for the eighth straight game.