RALEIGH, N.C. – Carolina Hurricanes head coach Bill Peters described his team’s 5-1 loss to the New Jersey Devils at PNC Arena on Thursday in simple terms: “We let each other down as a group here this evening.”
The scene in the Hurricanes (8-13-4) dressing room showed four individuals sitting in their stalls looking forward with blank stares.
Captain Eric Staal, brother Jordan, rookie defenseman Noah Hanifin, and starting goaltender Eddie Lack were in no rush to shed their equipment – almost too paralyzed to move and in shock of what they just endured at the hands of the Devils.
While a throng of media members surrounded Eric, questioning him on what went wrong, Carolina’s other goaltender, Cam Ward, walked by and conversed with Lack for a moment.
Hanifin eventually exited the area, and headed to join many of his teammates in the weight room.
“We didn’t have enough compete, we weren’t on our toes,” Eric Staal said.
“They were on us. We were spending more time in our end and fighting to get pucks under control on the forecheck against them. They were a little more aggressive than we were and it led to that.”
New Jersey goaltender Keith Kincaid posted a 30-save performance that frustrated Carolina’s shooters all game and earned him his second win of the season.
Only Brad Malone beat him with a high snipe that had the Hurricanes trailing 3-1 with 2:24 to play in the second.
Mike Cammalleri scored two, while Adam Henrique, Stephen Gionta and Jacob Josephson all added singles for the Devils as they shell shocked Lack and the Carolina defense starting late in the first period.
Cammalleri’s eighth goal of the season at 15:17 opened the game’s scoring and gave New Jersey a 1-0 lead which they carried through the first intermission.
A double-minor for high sticking called on Jeff Skinner eventually afforded the opportunity for New Jersey (13-10-2) to extend its margin to three with two goals coming within minutes of one another.
Henrique’s marker, the eventual game-deciding score, was posted during the first two minutes on the power play.
It was his fourth game-winning goal against Carolina in the two teams’ last six meetings.
Gionta’s goal came shortly afterwards as the second minor penalty expired.
“I didn’t think we were engaged emotionally in the beginning of the game,” Peters said.
“It looked like we were startin’ to come out early in the second and we took a double-minor. In all essence they scored on both of them. All of a sudden it goes from 1-0 to 3-0 and now you’re in a big hole, obviously, and never recovered.”
Malone’s goal generated some more energy and emotion.
Trailing 3-1, it looked as though Carolina could turn the tide to its favor.
However, a hit from behind on forward Andrej Nestrasil by Devils defenseman Eric Gelinas caught the Hurricanes off guard.
With no resultant penalty call, play continued on and eventually a 2-on-1 led to Josephson’s snap shot past Lack that extended New Jersey’s lead back up to three goals, leading 4-1.
The frustration level heightened and went a step further when Malone tangled with New Jersey’s Jordin Tootoo 20 seconds later – just before the period ended.
The scrap ignited cheers from the 9,254 in attendance as both players exchanged blows on one another.
The energy and noise level suddenly bottomed out when a left-hand cross from Tootoo caught Malone flush on the side of the face and resulted in him quickly dropping to the ice.
The fight was over, but the frustration level ratcheted up more.
Plays for the puck got more physical, and the hits got harder with a more personal finish to them.
“Bugsy did an unbelievable job tonight – he had a great game,” Jordan said.
“Obviously he had a big fight. I’m sure he’d have liked it to go a different way, but he was probably the only one (playing well), and beyond that it was just us tryin’ to get our feet movin’ and tryin’ to create somethin’ better than what we did the first two periods.”
During the third, Eric laid a shoulder-to-shoulder hit on Gelinas that stung the New Jersey blueliner as he dropped against the boards in the corner of the New Jersey zone.
As the period progressed, Staal, among others including defensemen Ron Hainsey and Justin Faulk, tangled with various Devils players.
“It’s a lot bottled up,” Staal said.
“There’s a lot you go through mentally every day. It’s been tough sleddin’ right now. We gotta find a way to pick ourselves up. We’re obviously down. We’ve gotta find a way to work and compete and gain confidence that way and go from there.”
“There is some frustration, obviously with our own game,” Jordan added.
“It kind of boiled over obviously towards the end of the game. It’s a night that we didn’t show up and guys started getting’ frustrated with each other a little bit and a little frustrated on the ice, so it was one of those games.”
Even with the unusual displays of increased aggression exhibited to defend and stand up for one another, this Hurricanes team ultimately knew what the root of its problem was against the Devils.
“They were basically workin’ hard, harder than us,” Lack said.
“That’s pretty much what it comes down to. First period, I felt like they were in our zone, they were ready to play, and we weren’t. I feel like we didn’t wake up until the third period, but it was obviously too late. Bottom line – I don’t feel like we were executing anything good enough today.”
It was Carolina’s third straight loss since a 4-1 win over Edmonton last week, the last time they played at home.
Though they’ve suffered more losses than they have preferred to accept over the past two weeks, it was a uniquely different mood in the room in how they reacted to this shortfall.
With a home back-to-back set coming up against the Montreal Canadiens and Arizona Coyotes on Saturday and Sunday respectively, it will be critical for the Hurricanes to redirect their emotional energy into the effort they need to put forward to win a game again.
Finishing with only one goal for the second out of his team’s last three games was something to be concerned about for Peters.
The coach once again expressed the mood of the moment accordingly.
“After the way we played tonight, I’m worried about the overall group,” Peters said.
“We’ve got to be better than what we were there.”