With a chance to string together just their second three-game points streak of the season on Monday night, the Hurricanes instead dropped a 4-1 decision to the Dallas Stars at the RBC Center. James Neal led the visitors with two goals, while Eric Staal recorded the lone tally for a Carolina team that was left disappointed by their overall showing.
“We weren’t any good,” said coach Paul Maurice. “We had no jump, no quickness, no pace, missed the net eight times in the first period and were just off.”
“It wasn’t there,” said Tuomo Ruutu of the Canes’ effort. “Hopefully this doesn’t happen again. I don’t think we were a tough team to play against tonight.”
The win was the fourth in a row for Dallas, which is exactly the kind of streak the Hurricanes would love to achieve. Each time they manage to put together a positive set of games, as they recently did with a Friday win in Boston and a shootout loss in Washington Sunday, a game like Monday’s has a way of popping back up.
In this case, the Hurricanes were playing the second half of back-to-back games while Dallas sat waiting in Raleigh on Sunday night. However, the Canes weren’t using that as an excuse for the loss.
“Our legs might have been tired, but I thought our heads looked more tired than that,” said Maurice. “We had a lot of pucks that we put in deep where we went in and they went out, and there wasn’t a whole lot going on after that.”
Staal, who scored his team-leading 12th goal of the season on a second-period breakaway that made the score 3-1, said that a better start to the game may have given the Hurricanes a much-needed shot in the arm.
“We’ve got to do a better job of trying to get the first goal,” he said. “We’re pretty good at home if we can get that first one and get our crowd going and get our energy up. Tonight was one of those nights where it would have been nice to get that, but it didn’t happen.”
Neal had the honors at the 10:50 mark of the first period, when his shot from the right circle flew over Cam Ward’s blocker on the short side for his ninth of the season. His second, which came in the middle period and made the score 3-0, came when his shot went off the boards behind Ward and right back onto his stick, allowing him to snap a perfectly-placed shot at the far corner.
While those goals hurt, they weren’t as damaging as Steve Ott’s tally that made the score 2-0 early in the second period. The Canes had collapsed too low in a last-gasp attempt to beat Dallas goalie Kari Lehtonen as time expired on a power play, resulting in a quick odd-man rush the other way
“You don’t like giving up a goal at the end of the power play like that where you know the guy is coming out of the box,” said Maurice. “That’s just not good hockey.”
Neal’s second would come just under two minutes later, with the Stars’ Jamie Benn sealing the deal early in the third period when he fought off defenseman Ian White in the Carolina goal crease and deposited a Brendan Morrow rebound past Ward, who had not yet been able to reposition himself after making the initial save.
Other than an intense scrum in front of the Carolina bench involving Ott and Carolina’s Tim Gleason that resulted in five total roughing minors, the rest of the third period would be uneventful as Dallas cruised to their first victory in the RBC Center since Dec. 22, 2003.
Despite Maurice’s harsh words regarding his team’s schedule this season, the Hurricanes will play just two games in the next 10 days, easily their lightest run of the season. They’ll use that time to regroup in an attempt to finally get over the .500 hump, beginning with Friday’s home game against Colorado.
“We’re kind of trading water in and around that red line of the playoffs, but we’ve got to find ways to get above that line,” said Staal. “We’ve got to find ways to win.”
“We’ve done a pretty damn good job of staying in the fight, but at some point we’re going to have to get above that and we’re going to have to get beyond treading water,” said Maurice.
Notes: Troy Bodie tied Patrick Dwyer for a game-high six hits in just 8:38 of ice time … Joni Pitkanen had his career-best six-game point streak snapped. He still has points in eight of his last 10 games … White posted a game-low -3 plus/minus rating, his lowest since joining the Hurricanes via trade on Nov. 17 … The Canes and Stars wait just 11 days for a rematch, this time in Dallas on Dec. 10.