RALEIGH, N.C. – The Carolina Hurricanes scored three goals in the third period but it wasn’t enough as they dropped their home-opener 5-3 to the New York Islanders at PNC Arena on Friday.
It was the two teams’ National Hockey League (NHL) season-opener and the first of a back-to-back set they would play to begin their respective 2014-2015 seasons.
Nathan Gerbe, Chris Terry, and captain Eric Staal all posted goals, while starting goaltender Cam Ward made 21 saves in the losing effort.
Coming into the game, the Hurricanes had won six of the last seven meetings between the clubs with Ward holding a 17-3-3 record to go along with a 2.52 GAA and one shutout in 26 career appearances against the Isles.
However, on this night, the Islanders played like they wanted to claim back some of their respect to make up for past shortfalls against Carolina, and showed they were the better team.
Led by forwards Brock Nelson (2g, 2a), John Tavares (3a), and recently acquired defenseman Johnny Boychuk (1g, 2a), New York outshot Carolina 26-24 with goalkeeper Jaroslav Halak making many key saves to keep the Hurricanes at a distance throughout.
The night was a special one for rookies Victor Rask and Patrick Brown who played in their first career NHL game, while head coach Bill Peters recorded his first game as a bench boss in the league – albeit as a loss.
“Not great right now,” Peters said as he described his feelings following the game.
“I didn’t mind our start. I thought we started out fine and then obviously there were a couple of penalties there that put us behind the eight ball – we couldn’t kill ‘em – and then it gave them momentum.”
The first 10 minutes showed high energy output from all four lines as Carolina put pucks towards Halak, but the Islanders’ defensive zone play bought enough time to eventually take control of the game at the other end of the ice.
Special teams play made the difference early on for New York as a 5-on-3 opportunity with 3:07 remaining in the opening period reaped its benefit.
With both Brad Malone and Jay Harrison sitting in the penalty box, Tavares helped orchestrate the Islanders’ first two goals of the game.
Boychuk unleashed a point shot that beat Ward through a crowd sitting in front of him to put the Islanders ahead 1-0 with 2:54 remaining.
Tavares slid the puck to Kyle Okposo, who then set the defenseman up to unleash the one-timer from the open space inside the blue line.
Remaining on the power play, Boychuk moved the puck over to Tavares who then found Nelson open in the slot to put a wrist shot up high over Ward’s glove hand, just as both teams returned to even strength.
The Islanders carried their 2-0 lead into the second period and added to it when Nelson scored his second of the game at the 7:38 mark.
At some point during the period, Carolina lost its ability to penetrate the Islanders zone effectively and New York worked to keep its foot on the pedal.
“I thought once we started moving our feet and making some good puck decisions, I felt we started to gain some momentum,” Islanders head coach Jack Capuano said.
From the Carolina bench, Peters saw the difference in work output from his team while it struggled to get on the board during the period.
“I think it was just us, lack of execution, more than anything,” Peters said.
“I thought we executed well, the first half of the first period, even to the 15-minute mark, then I think our execution went away a little bit.”
Faced with a three-goal deficit with 20 minutes remaining to play, Peters’ message to his team was to keep playing hard.
“You gotta’ keep playin’, you still gotta’ do things right, establish a foundation,” he said.
“You gotta’ stay with it.”
Peters also made some personnel changes on the fly during the middle of the period, switching Alexander Semin and Elias Lindholm from their respective lines.
“It wasn’t workin’ with what we were doin’,” he said.
“We were down three, you gotta’ try something and that’s a change we knew we could go to at any time.”
The Hurricanes responded with three goals in the third period, and the power play (2-5) accounted for two of them.
Early and late-period man-advantage goals from Gerbe and Staal sandwiched Chris Terry’s one-timer from the opposite right faceoff circle at even-strength.
However, the output wasn’t enough to get any closer as Carolina couldn’t narrow the Islanders lead to less than two goals at any point during the period.
A defensive miscommunication below the goal line and in the corner between defensive partners Harrison and Ron Hainsey left Mikhail Grabovski all alone to receive a pass from Ryan Strome that beat Ward high on the blocker side at the 5:11 mark.
New York defenseman Travis Hamonic followed that goal up seven minutes later as he snapped a clean shot from the top of the circle that beat Ward high to his blocker side, and gave the Islanders their largest lead of the game at 5-1.
While eventually bringing the score back down to two goals with 94 seconds left in the game, it wasn’t enough time for Carolina to stage a comeback in front of its sold out crowd of 18,680 in attendance.
“We were just tryin’ to use the momentum,” Staal said.
“I felt the momentum was pushin’ good our way, but obviously not enough.”