RALEIGH, N.C. – The Carolina Hurricanes couldn’t handle the heat when they faced the Calgary Flames at PNC Arena on Sunday.
They couldn’t avoid what Johnny Gaudreau and Calgary eventually threw at them during the final two periods of play, especially when they helped them with 10 giveaways.
Gaudreau’s three-point night – two goals and an assist – led the Flames to a 3-1 victory over the Hurricanes and evened the season series between the two clubs at a game apiece.
“Just giveaways – we gave the puck away – we were turnin’ the puck over tonight,” Hurricanes head coach Bill Peters said.
“A lot of turnovers – it makes it hard ‘cause you think you’re on offense because you have the puck. You turn it over and you’re goin’ the wrong way. I thought the turnovers and the puck management led to a lot of trouble.”
Victor Rask scored the lone goal for Carolina while goaltender Eddie Lack, making his second straight start, made 21 saves and suffered the loss.
The Flames came into the matinee matchup having earned points in their last five games and bagged another two.
Even while the Hurricanes were riding off the high of a 3-0 shutout win over Ottawa on Friday, they couldn’t pile it on against Flames netminder Brian Elliott who made 34 stops to earn the win.
Carolina took advantage of two early man-advantage opportunities during the opening period, and converted on one of them during the first 10 minutes of play.
Rask scored at 4:54, a power play goal and his 14th of the season that resulted from a cross-ice pass from Jeff Skinner on the play initiated by defenseman Noah Hanifin.
The centerman’s drawback on the wrist shot froze Elliott who misplayed the shot, and allowed it to sail cleanly past him.
At even strength around the nine-minute mark, it looked as though defenseman Ryan Murphy’s point shot would give Carolina a two-goal lead, but Calgary forward Matt Stajan just happened to be in the crease behind Elliott and was inadvertently hit with the shot, and kept it from going in.
“It would have been big for sure, but wouldn’t we have started to play properly at that point, if we got up two?” Peters stated.
“When we’re up one, why don’t we start to play properly? Or do the right thing and play properly for 60 minutes. Then if it goes into a little extra overtime, then play properly for 65 minutes. I didn’t think we did that today.”
During the first period, Lack looked steady in position and turned away all 10 shots he faced, extending his shutout goaltending to four periods, while Carolina held its one-goal lead through the first intermission.
However, Carolina didn’t take advantage of a road-weary team.
When Elliott left big rebounds, the Hurricanes’ forwards didn’t fight the Flames defense hard enough to finish on those opportunities.
Calgary evened the score 1-1 early in the second period when Michael Ferland successfully beat Lack with a wrist shot over his stick-side shoulder on a breakaway at the 6:05 mark.
Chipping the puck out of his own end, Gaudreau placed it high and far enough between Carolina defensemen Brett Pesce and Hanifin to allow Ferland to pick it up with speed in the neutral zone and head in uncontested against Lack.
Gaudreau then gave the Flames a 2-1 lead with 5:10 remaining in the period.
His 12th goal of the season was the result of a bouncing puck sequence in the Carolina zone that first had him attempt to pass the puck for it only to come back to him; then he shot it towards the net, and it came back via a failed clear by Pesce, and finally a third swipe at it beat Lack and ended up in the Hurricanes net.
Though looking shaky in the first after Rask’s shot beat him cleanly, Elliott stopped back-to-back shots in close on numerous occasions and denied Carolina the opportunity to tied it up late in the period.
Calgary held its one-goal lead into the second intermission.
Elliott continued to stymie the Hurricanes during the early part of the third.
A big pad save on a scramble pick-up by Sebastian Aho kept it a 2-1 game with 9:58 remaining.
Just over a minute later, Gaudreau gave the Flames the insurance goal they were looking for.
He scored his second of the game with a wrist shot that partially deflected off Pesce who fronted him, and dipped low past Lack’s trapper.
As much energy and work the Hurricanes put out to pull closer, Elliott, Gaudreau and the Flames proved too much to overcome.
“Five-on-five we were struggling,” Carolina’s Jordan Staal said.
“We weren’t creating enough and doing enough good things to win a hockey game.”
They faced a Flames squad that was intent on winning the game, no matter what.
“I think our guys were dialed in,” Calgary head coach Glen Gulatzan said.
“They wanted to finish the trip off the right way.”
While Hanifin and new defensive partner Pesce were victimized and on the ice for all three goals against, no shots on goal from Jeff Skinner and winning only 50 percent of all draws were not the ingredients for success for Carolina.
Losing to Calgary showed once again that scoring is an issue for this team, particularly when it needs to recover from lapses.
They apparently haven’t earned the breaks that other teams get when they don’t play well.
Call it bad luck, karma, or just the prolonged punishment to not yet be rewarded for their efforts that they should have banked earlier in the season.
According to Peters, it’s simply a matter of inconsistency.
“I think our whole team has a hard time being consistent,” Peters said when referring to recent finishes.
“You look at the Pittsburgh effort and the effort against Ottawa. I don’t think they are the same as the effort tonight. I thought our effort was lacking throughout. I think we could be a little better than we were today.”
With the trade deadline approaching, and with a road trip coming up as well, who knows how the inconsistency will be addressed.
“We made it easy on management, for sure,” Peters concluded.
“We don’t have much of a leg to stand on, to argue about and go in and fight. We haven’t done a good job there, so they’ll be makin’ decisions. I’m sure they’re busy as we speak and they will be busy until Wednesday.”