RALEIGH, N.C. – It wasn’t the most exhilarating game played on the ice at PNC Arena this season.
It wasn’t the highest scoring contest either, but it was the first goal that made the difference on Thursday night when the Carolina Hurricanes fell 3-0 to the Los Angeles Kings.
Not just one, not two, but three goals scored by the Kings in a span of two minutes and 19 seconds dashed the Hurricanes’ hopes of ending their current losing streak.
The result evened the two teams’ season series to one win apiece.
Hurricanes goaltender Cam Ward, playing in his 41st game this season and tied for third in the league among all goaltenders in that category, made 26 saves in the loss.
His counterpart, Kings’ netminder Peter Budaj, second on that list in playing his 42nd game, made 22 stops in earning the shutout win.
“Mistakes on our part that happened,” defenseman Justin Faulk said of how the loss culminated in the dying minutes of regulation time.
As the NHL All-Star break is now upon Hurricanes head coach Bill Peters and his players, it will be a time for not only rehabilitating and recharging bodies, but mending minds.
After suffering four straight losses with 20 goals scored against, to almost have one claimed in their favor would have burst a balloon full of tension in the Carolina dressing room, and helped ease up on some of that pressure.
Instead, the losing streak extended to five games, a skid that left Peters with a bad taste in his mouth, and one he expected his players to swallow.
“It’s a bad taste – that’s five straight,” he said.
“I think tonight’s going to go a long way to leaving a taste. The taste in the mouth is for the All-Star Break.”
It was the type of game that was tiring to watch as both teams grappled with one another until one submitted.
“Two good defensive teams, two good checking teams tonight,” Kings head coach Darryl Sutter said.
“Nothing was for free,” Peters added.
“A lot of contested shot attempts, a lot of pucks getting deflected, not getting to the net; so, a tight one.”
Was it a goaltender’s duel?
Well kind of, but with only 51 total shots between them, both team’s opportunities were spaced out enough to awaken the crowd at various point during each period.
Ward’s pad save on Kings forward Jordan Nolan was matched by an impressive blocker save by Budaj on Hurricanes forward Sebastian Aho.
Anze Kopitar had a breakaway on Ward, but missed high.
Fanned shot opportunities by Jeff Skinner and Jordan Staal continued to deny the Hurricanes the opportunity to take the lead later in the game.
With four power play opportunities, the chance to take the lead was there for Carolina, but they finished 0-for-4 with the extra man.
“We had plenty of power play opportunities,” Faulk said.
“We just didn’t step up and play well enough.”
The Kings’ lone man-advantage opportunity wasn’t the difference-maker either.
For just over 55 minutes, neither team outpaced the other on the score sheet.
That is until Drew Doughty skated along the side boards in the neutral zone before crossing the Hurricanes’ blue line after picking up a banked pass from Kopitar.
After crossing the Carolina blue line, he threaded the puck past Faulk to Marian Gaborik who redirected it past Ward.
It was 1-0 L.A. at the 15:17 mark of the third period.
It got worse just 38 seconds later when the Kings’ Trevor Lewis was credited with a botched rebound clear by Hurricanes defenseman Noah Hanifin.
With L.A. up 2-0 with 4:05 remaining, Carolina pulled Ward in hopes of capitalizing on any chance they could get to at least pull within one.
That didn’t happen as Kyle Clifford scored the empty-netter, the third Kings goal during the 2:19 span.
Just like that, the game was over.
“Yeah, it seemed like the team that scored first was going to win the game,” Staal said.
“It got tighter and tighter, and we had some chances. They made a smart play, jumped up on us and made an odd-man rush, and that was the end of the game.”
For now, the Hurricanes will step away and try to rinse the horrible flavor out of their mouth for a short time, but when they return to the ice on Monday, Peters will be ready for them.
“We’ll get back to work in practice,” he said.
“It’ll be like starting over.”