In the minutes following Eric Staal’s power-play goal that had erased a two-goal, third-period deficit on Wednesday night, two minor infractions by the Hurricanes erased their newly-built momentum and allowed the visitors’ Brooks Laich to score the winner with just under eight minutes remaining in the third period.
The game’s final goal, which made the score 3-2, came on a Jeff Skinner slashing penalty minutes after the Hurricanes had barely survived a tripping penalty by Jiri Tlusty. On the second penalty kill, Carolina goaltender Justin Peters, who was starting in place of new father Cam Ward, had his airborne clearing attempt up center ice intercepted by Alexander Ovechkin, whose shoot found Laich all alone in front for the redirection.
“Obviously I wouldn’t have done that if I could do it again,” said Skinner, whose slash was not vicious by any means but did break his opponent’s stick. “We came off a big kill, and we can’t take those kinds of penalties with their power play with seven minutes left in the game.”
“We did a real good job fighting back in the third period, and unfortunately I let the team down there when I fanned on my shot,” said Peters. “I should have just took a quick whistle.”
While both players took accountability, they each had a hand in keeping the game as close as it was. Skinner had a big part in creating Staal’s equalizer, as his wraparound attempt hit the post for the second time in the final period but this time took a fortunate bounce for the captain, who was playing his 500th career game.
It was an overdue bit of luck for the 18-year-old Skinner, who also had a glorious chance bang off the iron in the team’s previous home game against Nashville.
“On the nights he gets a good handle on it he’s going to score a bunch, and on the nights like tonight when it’s not easy for him, he can still be the difference maker,” said Hurricanes coach Paul Maurice of Skinner.
However, fate would again turn against the NHL’s highest-scoring rookie by way of his penalty, which may not have been completely deserved but nonetheless was the difference for a Hurricanes team that entered the night ranked 28th in penalty killing against a Washington team that ranked 6th on the power play.
“That hurt us, because we had all the momentum going and such a good feeling,” said Maurice, whose team began the game as the 4th-least-penalized squad in the league.
As for Peters, the 24-year-old allowed two goals to Capitals center Nicklas Backstrom in addition to Laich’s winner, but several of his 35 stops were good ones that kept the game close during some tough stretches for Carolina.
“I’m really going to try to take the positives away from the game, and I feel there was a lot of positive in the game,” said Peters.
“We’re going to look at that goal, the third one, and that’s what you remember, but he made some good saves,” said Maurice. “He really did. The mental challenge for him now is to be able to still keep that confidence that you have to have to play goal.”
Heading into the third period, it wasn’t a certainty that the Hurricanes would be able to make the game interesting. They had yet to score on Washington in five periods of play this season, with the Capitals yet to relinquish a point in the standings when leading after two periods and the Hurricanes yet to earn one when trailing after two. The strong play of Washington goaltender Semyon Varlamov, who was playing his first NHL game in nearly a month due to injury, further complicated matters.
“When we got that first goal in the third period, the crowd really erupted,” said Peters, who watched Staal tie the game just four minutes later. “That’s such a home-ice advantage.”
“I think our compete is pretty darn good,” said Maurice. “We’re still learning not do to the things that slow us down - turning pucks over and not putting them at the net – but at the very least they show signs that they can change gears if they have to.”
The Canes, who are now winless in three games but have earned two points during that span by way of shootout losses, will hit the road to Boston after a Thanksgiving practice at the RecZone to begin a two-game swing that will also take them to Washington for a Sunday rematch with the Capitals.
It’s a tough trip against two quality teams – the kind that the Hurricanes have struggled with this season.
“The reason they’re the big teams is because everybody struggles against them,” said Maurice.