TORONTO, ONTARIO – The lighted path towards the NHL playoffs dimmed slightly.
In suffering a 3-1 loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs at the Air Canada Centre on Thursday, the Carolina Hurricanes didn’t gain any ground to vault closer into the final Eastern Conference wildcard spot.
The optimistic view considered that the Hurricanes still sat two points behind the Pittsburgh Penguins whereas the pessimistic view showed that the Pens had three games in hand with which to distance themselves further ahead.
Add to the scenario the presence of the Philadelphia Flyers – the team Carolina held back briefly in a 3-1 win on Tuesday – who pulled within a point of the Hurricanes following a win over Minnesota.
With two games in hand, Philadelphia also possessed a similar shot at challenging the Pens for the final spot as of Friday morning.
“They were better than us early, they were more competitive than us early, and we were fortunate to come out of that period tied 1-1,” Hurricanes head coach Bill Peters said.
Defenseman John-Michael Liles scored Carolina’s lone goal when his point shot beat Leafs netminder Jonathan Bernier and tied the score 1-1 at the 16:01 mark.
Captain Eric Staal earned the lone assist off the draw on the play.
Toronto finished scoring opportunities from Josh Leivo and P.A. Parenteau that got past goalkeeper Cam Ward in each of the second and third periods, and secured the win even while being outshot 25-14 during the final 40 minutes of play.
“They were more competitive than us early, when the game’s on the line,” Peters continued.
“If you’ve got the energy to play hard at the end, you’ve got to find the willingness to be ready to play and start on time, and we didn’t do that. We didn’t do that Tuesday night either; very similar start to what we had against Philadelphia.”
With much talk about Staal, and possibly Ward among others, who could be dealt to another team as the NHL’s trade deadline approached on Monday, Peters concurred it could have affected players’ mindset.
“Probably – that’s human nature to a certain degree,” he said.
“You know what?” Peters quickly prompted.
“We’re right there, we’re in the hunt, you wanna keep it together. You gotta continue to get points. If you’re not winnin’, you’re not keepin’ up is what it basically amounts to. When you do win you, don’t gain a whole bunch of ground, but when you lose hockey games, you fall out of it pretty quick.”
While the postseason path darkened slightly, the Hurricanes coach was clear that the headlamps would have to get turned up and for his team to forge ahead regardless of what would happen in the coming days.
“We’re gonna have to find a way to bounce back tomorrow against Boston.”