After scoring their first power-play goal since March 1 early in the first period, breaking a 0-28 slump in the process, the Canes couldn’t score again in an eventual 3-1 loss to the visiting Toronto Maple Leafs. The Canes threw 37 shots on James Reimer, missed 32 more and had 15 attempts go wide of the net in a night where they put themselves in the right position but couldn’t find the finishing touch.
“The effort is there,” said coach Paul Maurice. “The finish isn’t.”
Wednesday’s game continued a recent trend. The Canes have registered over 30 shots on goal for five consecutive games, but have just seven goals to show for it. They’ve scored twice over their last two games, but were more fortunate in Tuesday’s big road win in Buffalo, a 1-0 contest that saw Cam Ward make 40 saves.
“As a team you start gripping your sticks and you start hearing it more,” said LaRose. “You can’t put that whole lot on our goaltender.”
LaRose, who was part of a new power-play unit along with Sutter and rookie Drayson Bowman, got the home team on the board with just the second man-advantage goal of his career. Sutter started the play by throwing a wrist shot from between the faceoff circles at Reimer, with LaRose making a perfectly-timed cut to the net to tip it in.
However, further offense could not be found, with LaRose and Sutter combining for the team’s only 2 goals over the last 120 minutes of play.
“That second one was there all night,” said Maurice. “We just couldn’t finish on it.”
With the Hurricanes showing plenty of jump early, the turning point came with 59 seconds left in the first period. Toronto defenseman Dion Phaneuf scored a power-play goal that hit Ward’s shoulder before trickling into the net. It was just the second power-play goal the Canes had allowed in 21 opportunities.
That momentum carried over into the second period, with the Leafs striking twice in a 12-second span halfway through the frame to take the lead for good. Phaneuf scored one of those goals on a power-play slap shot and assisted on Tyler Bozak’s quick follow-up at even strength, giving him 3 points on the night and 6 in four games against the Canes this season.
“We got lackadaisical, to be honest,” said defenseman Tim Gleason. “They got that one goal at the end of the period, but we had a few minutes to regroup ourselves and come out ready to play. Those were tough goals there. Mistakes are part of the game, but we’ve got to limit them as much as we can.”
With the win, Toronto moves to just two points behind the Hurricanes in the standings with 72 points, while Carolina missed a chance to tie the idle Sabres for the Eastern Conference’s eighth and final playoff spot with 11 games remaining in the season.
“We had a big game yesterday, and it’s kind of a sour feeling because it’s pretty much for nothing really at this point,” said Gleason. “That was a big game, and if we could have won that it would give us a little breathing room. We’ve got to find a way to put two together, or we’re going to be looking above us.”
Having concluded their 17th of 21 sets of back-to-back games this season, Wednesday’s loss dropped the Canes to 6-10-1 in the second halves. However, fatigue didn’t seem to be an issue in their latest setback.
“I thought we had good jump in that first period,” said Maurice. “We didn’t look like the team that had played the night before. We had lots going on but couldn’t build on that momentum. That’s the difference.”
“We had a lot of energy and didn’t look tired tonight, and that’s a good sign going forward,” said Sutter.
The Canes will stay off the ice to rest on Thursday before taking on the New York Islanders at home the following day.
NOTES: Phaneuf’s first goal ended a shutout streak of 118:13 for Ward … Carolina fell to 17-4-2 when Sutter records a point … The Canes allowed 2 power-play goals in the same game for the first time since Feb. 10 at Philadelphia … Toronto improved to 12-5-5 since the All-Star break … Reimer, a surprise start on the night, has allowed just 1 goal in two career appearances against Carolina … Eric Staal took a game-high nine shots in a season-high 26:38 of ice time