|TBL||2||1||1||(0 - 0)||4|
|CAR||2||0||0||(0 - 0)||2|
A tough call ended up being the turning point in a tough loss for Carolina.
On the strength of a Dominic Moore power-play goal that was the result of a controversial penalty on Erik Cole, the Tampa Bay Lightning left the RBC Center with a 4-2 victory that put a significant dent in the Canes’ playoff hopes.
With the eighth-place Buffalo Sabres taking a 2-0 victory over New Jersey, the Hurricanes now have just seven games to make up the five-point gap between them and the postseason. Even a win in the April 3 head-to-head match-up between those two squads would not be enough in itself to get the Canes back in.
“We felt that we could keep winning and make that (Buffalo) game the swing game,” said Hurricanes coach Paul Maurice. “Now we’re going to need some help here. We’ve got to come pretty close to running the table here going out.”
With the score tied 2-2 late in the second period, the Canes seemed to be in a good position to at least keep pace with the Sabres and seventh-place New York Rangers, who also won on Saturday. The home team had plenty of momentum and had narrowly missed several chances to take the lead when Cole was called for goaltender interference as he made one of his trademark power moves to the net.
That would prove to be the turning point in the game, as Moore scored on the ensuing power play by getting a piece of a Vincent Lecavalier point shot before depositing his own rebound past Carolina goalie Cam Ward, who finished with 28 saves.
“It’s unfortunate,” said Cole, who had earlier scored to tie the game at 2-2 late in the first period. “You’re just trying to drive across the front of the net and you’ve got one guy with his arm around you and then another guy comes and bumps you. There wasn’t really anywhere to go. I tried to slow down by the time I got to the net, but it is what it is. That’s the difference in the game.”
“I didn’t like that call,” said Maurice. “(Pavel) Kubina’s got his forearm over his chest and (Victor) Hedman drives him into the goaltender. I didn’t think it was a good call at all.”
The Canes would never get the goal they needed to tie the game in the third period, with their best chance coming as Cole tried to find Eric Staal with a cross-crease pass that was blocked and then cleared by defenseman Mike Lundin as the puck momentarily sat loose in the crease.
Simon Gagne would take advantage of some Carolina confusion for an empty net goal in the final minute from his own blue line – his second tally of the game and fourth of the back-to-back, home-and-home set that began with a Hurricanes victory Friday night.
“We’ve come up on the short end a couple of times where we’ve had a lot of shots and a lot of golden opportunities, and if we continue to do that good things will happen,” said Cory Stillman, who had two assists in the first period. “It’s just that we’re running out of time for it.”
“Some of those plays weren’t far off from being made,” said Maurice, whose team finished with 35 shots on goal. “You like the confidence in them, but we still have to be a puck-to-the-net-first team, and I think we passed up on a few of those.”
Despite Staal’s power-play goal that opened the scoring at the 7:17 mark of the first period – an excellent finish with Cole providing a screen on Tampa goalie Mike Smith – the Lightning seemed to have more jump at the start. That became evident when they quickly took a 2-1 lead via Martin St. Louis and Gagne, who capitalized on turnovers by Hurricanes defensemen.
After the game, Hurricanes players said that the Lightning’s fast start may have had something to do with the way they finished the previous game. In Tampa, the Lightning scored twice in the final seven minute to make what had been a 4-1 Hurricanes lead much more interesting than anticipated.
“They finished the game well last night and I think that carried over with some confidence for them tonight,” said defenseman Bryan Allen.
With the Canes at one time looking as though they would be happy to escape the first period of Saturday’s game down by just one – after Gagne’s goal, Ward had to make a few tough saves, including a point-blank effort by Moore to keep it close – Cole would snatch the momentum back with a backhander from the slot with 51 seconds left that came via a patient play by Stillman.
The Canes would retain the upper hand until the Cole penalty, which was all the Lightning would need to seal the victory.
“We were playing strong and had all the momentum going, and we get maybe a so-so call with Colesy going into the netminder al little bit,” said defenseman Jamie McBain, who recorded an assist on Staal’s goal in his first game back from a two-week shoulder injury. “They happened to bury it on that power play and it drained a little bit of momentum.”
The Canes will now have two days to regroup before beginning another back-to-back set Tuesday in Washington. Following that contest, they return home for a date against Montreal.
“You certainly know that we’re going to have to pump some tires here before this Washington game and get them back mentally focused,” said Maurice.
“Regardless of whether you win or you lose a game at this time of the season, the next game becomes the biggest game of the year and so on and so on,” said Cole. “That’s just he mentality we’re going to have to have and we’re going to have to keep going.”
NOTES: Staal has goals in back-to-back games following a seven-game drought … The Hurricanes fell to 7-2-1 when Staal records a power-play goal … Staal has 8 points in the five-game series with Tampa Bay. Cole has 9 … The Canes scored power-play goals in consecutive games for the first time since Feb. 5-8 … Carolina has scored in the first period in six consecutive games ... The Canes fell to 14-5-2 in their last 21 meetings with the Lightning … Smith earned his first win in 10 appearances against the Canes.
|PPG - Eric Staal (31) ASST: Cory Stillman (23), Jamie McBain (21)|
1 - 0 CAR
|Martin St. Louis (27) ASST: Vincent Lecavalier (25)|
1 - 1 Tie
|Simon Gagne (15) ASST: NONE|
2 - 1 TBL
|Erik Cole (23) ASST: Cory Stillman (24), Bryan Allen (11)|
2 - 2 Tie
|PPG - Dominic Moore (15) ASST: Vincent Lecavalier (26), Martin St. Louis (62)|
3 - 2 TBL
|EN - Simon Gagne (16) ASST: NONE|
4 - 2 TBL
|Steve Downie Hooking against Bryan Allen|
|Nate Thompson Interference against Tuomo Ruutu|
|Eric Brewer Hooking against Erik Cole|
|Erik Cole Interference on goalkeeper against Mike Smith|
|Drayson Bowman Boarding against Brett Clark|
|Brandon Sutter Fighting (maj) against Eric Brewer|
|Eric Brewer Cross checking against Brandon Sutter|
|Brandon Sutter Slashing against Eric Brewer|
|Eric Brewer Fighting (maj) against Brandon Sutter|
|Jeff Skinner Roughing against Dominic Moore|
|Dominic Moore Roughing against Jeff Skinner|
|SA: 35||TOI: 60:00|
|Saves: 33||EV: 29 - 30|
|PIM: 0||PP: 3 - 4|
|SV%: .943||SH: 1 - 1|
|SA: 31||TOI: 59:11|
|Saves: 28||EV: 26 - 28|
|PIM: 0||PP: 2 - 3|
|SV%: .903||SH: 0 - 0|