RALEIGH, N.C. – It was a night to try and hold steady if anything and not lose ground in the NHL standings for the Carolina Hurricanes.
They did just that despite suffering a 6-3 loss to the league-leading Tampa Bay Lightning on Thursday.
“To me, we needed to keep that game 5-on-5,” Carolina coach Rod Brind’Amour said.
“It got away from us on that end of it. They’re too good. We weren’t good tonight. They’re too good to not be good (against), if you know what I mean. We got what we deserved at the end of the day because they were the better team.”
We got this, or do we?
Through two periods, it looked as though the high energy the Hurricanes played with that fueled goals from Nino Niederreiter, Dougie Hamilton, and Jordan Staal would set them up for an equally strong final period.
Leading 3-2 heading into the third, four straight goals from the Lightning just undid everything.
An early goal from Anthony Cirelli evened it up while the eventual game-winner from Ryan Callahan just past the midpoint increase the pressure for Carolina to try to even it up – a similar situation they were in against the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Only this time there were no comeback heroics.
Three penalties gave Lightning captain Steven Stamkos and his crew ample time and possession to regain the lead and take control of the game.
They scored with man-advantage on one of those, pulling further ahead, 5-3, on a goal from Brayden Point with 3:24 remaining.
Goaltender Curtis McElhinney made 26 saves overall but didn’t get any support as Stamkos’ three-point night (1g, 2a) helped lead Tampa Bay to a season sweep of all three games against Carolina.
Louis Domingue made nine stops during the final 20 minutes that left the Hurricanes wanting by shutting them out for the period.
The real story
While many would look to a 2-of-5 conversion rate on the power play as a key factor for the Lightning win, Hurricanes captain Justin Williams couldn’t explain why, yet was blunt in his description of what really happened.
“No, we pissed it away,” Williams said.
“They scored one, obviously it was a backbreaker, the fifth goal, that’s a big one, but no, that wasn’t the story.”
“No, no, I don’t know what it was. We pissed it away and its unacceptable.”
Stuck in the same spot
With a game in-hand on the trailing Columbus Blue Jackets and Montreal Canadiens, Carolina could have increased their buffer between each.
But they didn’t.
They also could have pulled even with the Pens into third place in the Metropolitan Division, a team they beat at PNC Arena two days earlier.
But they didn’t.
With nine games remaining, the ability to finish off their opponent eluded the Hurricanes even if it was against Tampa Bay.
“They had an emotional game last night,” Williams said.
“We should have been the ones in the third period to have the jump and push them out. But we didn’t.”
With two more games coming up during this current homestand, on Saturday against Minnesota and Sunday against Montreal, there wasn’t much Brind’Amour said that he needed to say to his team.
He was more subdued and exhibited less emotion than Williams.
That might have been his way of compartmentalizing it quickly and calling it for what it was.
“If you’re gonna play a team like that, everybody has to be dialed right in.
“We took a breath on a couple of goals and that’s inexcusable. We worked hard, had some opportunities, but not good enough against a team like that.”
Peter Koutroumpis: 401-323-8960, @pksport