By Peter Koutroumpis
RALEIGH, N.C. – The game giveth, and the game taketh away.
As hard as the Carolina Hurricanes worked to carry a two-goal lead entering the third period, they watched it all disappear and eventually suffered a 4-3 shootout loss to the Detroit Red Wings on Saturday.
“I didn’t like our third period,” Carolina head coach Rod Brind’Amour said.
“To me, we just took the foot off the gas and it cost us.”
Here for a good time, not a long time
In front of what sounded like a bipartisan crowd of 13,029 on hand at PNC Arena, split evenly among Motor City transplants and Carolina faithful, there were no boos, just cheers throughout this game.
Grinders Brock McGinn and Micheal Ferland, along with defenseman Dougie Hamilton put the Hurricanes ahead 3-1 following Andreas Athanasiou’s game-opening marker.
Everybody wearing a Hurricanes jersey looked to be feeling good about themselves, on the ice and in the stands.
However, Carolina didn’t finish the Red Wings off and two consecutive goals from Anthony Mantha, scored in just under three minutes apart, soon tied it all up.
Cue the Detroit faithful’s relief that their team would put yet another team on the defensive late in the game.
That’s a detail Brind’Amour didn’t share with his guys.
“No, they didn’t know; I didn’t tell them,” he said.
“I didn’t tell them after the second that they (Detroit) had come back the last three times (in games). I forgot to do that.”
For Winged-wheel fans, the final 25 minutes plus the duration of a shootout capped off by Frans Nielsen’s shootout winner was cause for celebration.
Early-season capital spent
Sure, there was ample time for the Hurricanes to net a go-ahead goal again, but it just wouldn’t come despite putting 52 shots on goal, of which Detroit netminder Jonathan Bernier turned away 49.
After Ferland’s power play goal at 8:35 in the second, Carolina couldn’t capitalize on three additional man-advantage opportunities, including one late in overtime.
They didn’t even get a shot on goal during the 3-on-3 bonus period.
For a team that averaged over four goals a game to start the season, the positive differential earned then has dissipated and fallen in the negative for the recent 10-game stretch that’s resulted in a 3-5-2 showing.
Putting pucks on net, an exorbitant amount of them, is not translating into goals.
Coupled with giving up goals that they shouldn’t, this left Brind’Amour still searching for a solution.
“That’s what it always comes down to – we can say it how we want, but people are gonna say, ‘well, you get a lot of shots’, but we get a lot of chances too,” he pointed out.
“That’s been our Achilles heel. It’s not like other areas in our game. We don’t finish like we need to, and it’s tough because guys are working hard to get those chances. When you have a period like we did in the second, you need to put the team away, and we’re not getting enough out of it. I think that is what’s coming back to haunt us.”
It’s all mental
Carolina has shown that it must play at a certain pace, consistently and all game, in order to score goals and defend effectively to earn wins.
Anything short of that results in lapses that become costly and put pressure on the netminder to make stops.
While making 29 saves, including four in overtime, Scott Darling couldn’t make them on both snipes from Mantha.
While some may let all the blame fall on him, and justifiably so, those in front of him didn’t help much during those sequences.
Leading up to both opportunities, Carolina’s defensive play didn’t include effective gapping and coverage.
They didn’t make plays with any urgency, something that relates more to mental rigor than physical endurance.
That is the key to this team’s success and failure.
“It’s all mental, not physical,” he said.
“We give guys lots of rest. But the mental challenge rises up every shift. That’s what we’re gonna have to learn because we still do it. We still take a breath and we’re not good enough to take breaths. We’re just not. That’s been the message all year. You look at the goals that we give up and it’s like, ‘ahh, you’re with your guy, but your not with your guy’. These lessons, they hurt, but that’s just what we have to do. At some point, we’ll get it, and then it will be interesting how we do.”
Peter Koutroumpis: 401-323-8960, @pksport