RALEIGH, N.C. – With 20 games remaining in the regular season, the Carolina Hurricanes are dealing with the most adversity they’ve faced all season.
A 4-1 loss to the Dallas Stars on Tuesday was not the way coach Rod Brind’Amour wanted to start the final push to hold onto a wildcard playoff spot.
Despite outshooting the Stars by a 41-16 margin, a solid performance from former Hurricanes goalie Anton Khudobin along with an anemic 0-for-4 effort on the power play resulted in Carolina being swept in the teams’ two-game season series.
“I felt like we had a real good start,” Brind’Amour said.
“I thought the first period was good. Had a bad bounce on that first one – it just rolled over our stick and was at the net. They protected the lead well, but we still generated quite a few opportunities. We just had a few too many Grade-A mistakes.”
A lot had changed since the Hurricanes played at PNC Arena last Friday.
The loss of both goalies, James Reimer and Petr Mrazek, along with defenseman Brett Pesce during an eventual 6-3 win in Toronto on Saturday prompted a domino effect of player movement by Monday’s NHL trade deadline.
Riding high following a historic finish against the Leafs, one in which emergency backup goaltender David Ayres stepped in and earned the win to help the Canes claim a valuable pair of points, general manager Don Waddell was forced to make moves to keep the Hurricanes in contention for a playoff spot.
Not only were AHL netminders Alex Nedeljkovic and Anton Forsberg recalled, but trades were made that resulted in forward Vincent Trocheck and defensemen Brady Skjei and Sami Vatanen joining the team.
All but Vatanen were dressed to face the Stars on Monday, with Nedeljkovic making his debut this season in Raleigh, his second career NHL start.
Excitement off the ice
Leading up to the game, the day had been proclaimed by the city to be David Ayres Day.
Ayres, who made the trip with his wife Sarah, was the organization’s guest of honor and siren sounder following a whirlwind media tour that slinked from Toronto, through New York City and into the Triangle, highlighting his experience playing with the team against the Leafs.
The entire time he spoke of how hard the Hurricanes played in front of him at Scotia Bank Arena in front of a Hockey Night in Canada TV audience, and how the players made it easier for him to help them earn the win on the road.
Returning home, Carolina tried to replicate its effort and produce the same result with him looking on.
But it didn’t.
Falling behind 1-0 just 51 seconds following puck drop, and trailing by three at the end of the opening period made it a challenge to make gains against an experienced and skilled Dallas team.
Sebastian Aho’s 36th goal of the season at 2:33 of the second was the only response that the Hurricanes provided.
Despite letting in four goals, Nedeljkovic didn’t get much offensive support at the other end.
“I thought we put a lot of shots on net, played our game for the most part, but we obviously have to clean it up a little bit,” captain Jordan Staal said.
“We could have done a little better job of gettin’ in front of them, getting’ to the net. They keep it pretty tight blockin’ shots and cloggin’ up the front. You gotta shoot through them, open up spaces and open up plays. We had a few good looks that could have went our way, but we’ll continue to come back with a better effort.”
Roller coaster ride continues with new passengers
Falling back out of the last wildcard spot, Carolina’s newest additions had positive outlooks on working to mesh with team’s core as quickly as possible.
“Just getting’ to know the guys, goin’ over some film today, learnin’ as much as I can,” Skjei said.
“They work hard,” Trocheck said of his new teammates.
“They get on possession of the puck quite a bit in the O-zone which is all you can ask for. I had chances I should have buried. If we continue to play like that, we’re gonna do well.”
Reciprocally, having gone through the same process earlier this season, Ryan Dzingel understood how the recent additions will work to find their fit.
“It takes a little while to get to know your teammates, but at the same time guys make it easy for you. Different system and stuff that’s the only thing, but I think (you) just go out and play, just have fun. Got a new group and fresh start so you just go out, put your head down and play.”
Notables: Carolina finished 0-4 on the power play, 41-188 (21.8%) overall…On the PK, the Hurricanes went 2-3, 182-220 (82.7%) overall…Aho’s goal extended his point streak to 13 games, the longest point streak in his career and the longest point streak in team history since relocation…D-man Trevor van Riemsdyk played his 200th career Hurricanes game. He’s posted 37 points (7g, 30a) in 200 games with Carolina after tallying 31 points (8g, 23a) in 158 games with Chicago from 2014-2017.
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