RALEIGH, N.C. – The NHL season came to a close at PNC Arena on Thursday.
The Carolina Hurricanes’ final home game against the Montreal Canadiens ended in a 4-2 loss in front of 15,120 in attendance.
It was a close game early on, but it eventually ended in Montreal’s favor, giving the Habs the edge in the two teams’ regular-season series.
Montreal rookie netminder Charlie Lindgren, a recent free-agent signee, made his NHL debut and earned his first win with only Carolina’s Riley Nash and Noah Hanifin getting pucks by him on 28 shots he faced.
At the other end, Cam Ward made 27 stops in the loss for the Hurricanes.
“They were tight, they were good in the neutral zone,” Carolina head coach Bill Peters said of the Canadiens’ defensive play.
“We couldn’t get through the neutral zone and we kind of forced it into their track a little bit, and they took off in transition. They had a lot of odd-numbered rushes in my opinion.”
Carolina got on the board easily enough early on as Jeff Skinner came out of the corner to Lindgren’s right and fed Nash a pass in the low slot.
Nash then snapped a low shot to the keeper’s stick side and gave the Hurricanes a 1-0 lead, scoring his ninth goal of the season at the 1:34 mark.
While Lindgren let in the first shot he faced as a pro, he settled in and made key stops to keep the Canadiens close and to eventually earn the win.
With 9.9 seconds remaining in the period, defenseman Darren Dietz scored his first NHL goal when he wired a slap shot from the right point that Ward had no chance of seeing with the Habs’ Brendan Gallagher standing in front of him.
Both teams were tied 1-1 with the Canadiens outshooting the Hurricanes by a 9-8 margin as the first intermission arrived.
While Montreal carried its momentum into the beginning of the next period, Ward denied four shots on goal before Carolina regained its lead at the 5:11 mark.
A pass back from Jordan Staal set Hanifin up to rip a point shot that beat Lindgren high with Joakim Nordstrom and Patrick Brown posted in front of him.
Nordstrom also earned an assist on Hanifin’s fourth goal of the season.
Five minutes later, it looked as though Brown had scored, but it was waved off as the referee indicated play had been whistled dead before the puck crossed the goal line, regardless of how hard the Carolina forward poked the puck away from the goaltender’s smothering grasp.
That was the closest the Hurricanes got to seeing the puck cross the goal line for the rest of the game.
Montreal captain Max Pacioretty tied the score at two goals apiece with 6:48 remaining in the period after Ward lost control of a high wrist shot off his blocker that eventually floated over and behind him and into the net.
It was Pacioretty’s 28th goal of the season.
Three minutes later, a missed pass and turnover in their own end cost the Hurricanes as Tomas Plekanec picked the puck up in the neutral zone, gained the blue line and put a shot towards Ward.
With the shot attempt blocked and deflected off diving defenseman Brett Pesce, Daniel Carr was the recipient and easily poked the puck into the net behind a displaced Ward.
Montreal carried the 3-2 lead into the second intermission while outshooting Carolina 14-10.
“I think we were a little sloppy in the second, a little loose,” Skinner said.
“I think we could have done a better job of being tighter together through all three zones. They capitalized on some of our mistakes.”
Lars Eller’s goal off a rebound as the result of a 4-on-3 rush in the third finalized the game’s scoring and the Hurricanes’ season.
Even the game’s lone power play opportunity in Carolina’s favor with 3:48 didn’t help any.
No shots made it through to challenge Lindgren.
“They did a good job blocking shots, collapsing,” Skinner said.
“When they do that, it’s tough to create inside and those are the quality chances you’re lookin’ for.”
With one game remaining on the season, on the road against Florida, Peters expected to see a better effort.
“The focus has to be to play the proper way,” he said.
“We’ve played all year – we’ve played the right way, we’ve played hard, we’ve played quick. Tonight for whatever reason, give them credit, we weren’t able to do that. We weren’t able to, or weren’t willing, whatever it was. We looked hesitant, we looked a little bit slow and indecisive with the puck. So we wanna make sure we’re able to play the game properly on Saturday.”