RALEIGH, N.C. – The loss stung, but it didn’t hurt.
The Carolina Hurricanes needed a win, but came up short of earning one and suffered a 4-2 loss at the hands of the Tampa Bay Lighting at PNC Arena on Sunday.
Though the Lightning separated themselves further from the Hurricanes in the Eastern Conference playoff race, Carolina ended the day trailing a wildcard spot by four points.
There wasn’t much to mull over according to Hurricanes head coach Bill Peters said.
“We were good, we were real good today,” he said.
“Lost the hockey game – move on. Take a day off, come back and play Tuesday. That’s what you do in this league.”
Goals from Joakim Nordstrom and Michal Jordan highlighted a tight-checking game for the Hurricanes in which goals were hard to come by.
Center Jordan Staal extended his point streak to five games, earning assists on both Carolina goals.
Ryan Callahan scored two for Tampa Bay while J.T. Brown and Steven Stamkos scored at critical points in the game to even the score and to eventually earn the win.
While Carolina outshot the Lightning 31-18, the game’s first recorded shot took almost seven minutes for the NHL’s statisticians to tally it.
Starting goaltenders Cam Ward for Carolina and Ben Bishop for Tampa Bay stayed busy throughout getting ready to make stops as the Lightning finished with 27 combined blocked and missed shots while the Hurricanes had 25.
It was that kind of game – lots of attempts and very limited finishes.
“We had some good looks,” Peters pointed out.
Indeed, Carolina did have many looks, as did Tampa Bay.
Both teams remained scoreless through 10 minutes of play, and as John-Michael Liles sat in the penalty box for delay of game, Ward had to make back-to-back saves to keep it that way.
The Hurricanes penalty kill then took advantage of a Lightning turnover and set up the game’s first goal.
Rookie defenseman Jaccob Slavin started the play and moved the puck to Staal who cleared the Carolina blue line and picked up speed along the left boards in the neutral zone with Nordstrom on pace with him on the far wing.
Staal then slid a pass across the low slot through three Tampa Bay defenders and Nordstrom finished the play with a backhand redirect past Bishop.
Nordstrom’s seventh goal of the season, and first shorthanded tally of his career, put Carolina ahead 1-0 at the 11:10 mark.
While each team finished the period tied at six shots on goal apiece, the Hurricanes maintained their one-goal advantage.
Just under five minutes into the second, Brown was all alone in front and took advantage of catching Ward out of position on a deflected shot attempt.
As a result, Brown got his stick on the bouncing puck and tied the score 1-1.
The Lightning didn’t let up and effective puck possession and accurate shot-making earned them the lead with 11:33 remaining in the period.
A point pass from Nikita Nesterov across the ice to Stamkos spread the Carolina defense enough to find Callahan open on the right boards.
From there, Callahan wired a slap shot that caught the short-side corner and beat Ward for the go-ahead goal as Tampa Bay led 2-1.
A slashing penalty to Kris Versteeg allowed Tampa Bay to maintain its offensive momentum with the power play.
Fortunately for Carolina, Ward remained sharp and made a few key saves that kept it a one-goal game.
Back at even strength, an impressive individual effort on the part of Jordan tied the score at two apiece with 7:01 to play in the period.
After Jeff Skinner gained the Lightning zone with possession, he spun around and saw Jordan open on the left point.
Once the puck was on his tape, the Czech defenseman went to work and put together his highlight-reel goal of the night, his first of the season.
He faked a shot and skated past a sprawling Jonathan Marchessault, wheeled all the way around the Tampa Bay net, and caught Bishop out of position and put the puck in the net with a wraparound finish.
Both teams remained tied at 2-2 at the second intermission.
“That was a big goal for us,” Staal said.
Ward and Bishop continued to face their share of shot attempts through the first ten minutes of play in the third.
Carolina earned a power play when Braydon Coburn was called for hooking Staal with 8:12 remaining.
However, the Hurricanes were unable to convert on it and soon had to kill off their own penalty as Staal himself was called off for high-sticking Victor Hedman.
“It’s playoff-style hockey,” Peters said.
“Refs put the whistle away. It’s a man’s game out there and you gotta step up and play. That’s what it looked like to me. “
With Johnson and Ondrej Palat swiping at the puck in front, Ward kept it out early in the penalty kill.
However, Johnson found Stamkos open in the slot soon after and he converted on the power play opportunity with a wrist shot that beat Ward to his stick-side and put Tampa Bay ahead 3-2 with 5:43 to play.
Not for a lack of effort, Carolina put together a flurry of shots that bounced off Bishop’s equipment, but couldn’t get one past him.
The Hurricanes pulled Ward for the extra skater with 2:19 left.
Another few chances in close were thwarted by the Lightning netminder before an empty-net goal from Callahan sealed the win for Tampa Bay.
“I think we’re playin’ some strong hockey,” Staal said.
“We’re in every match. We’re gonna try to win every one of them. Tonight was an unfortunate one and we’ll learn from it and we’ll move on.”