By Peter Koutroumpis
RALEIGH, N.C. – The inevitable reality finally set in at PNC Arena on Saturday.
Following a 2-1 loss to the New York Rangers, any mathematical possibility of the Carolina Hurricanes earning a postseason spot officially disappeared.
Though the season has not ended yet, it will not continue past Apr. 7.
“It’s been a grind here for quite a while,” Hurricanes head coach Bill Peters said.
“Obviously, mathematically, but realistically – not so much.”
Jeff Skinner scored Carolina’s lone goal in the third, a brief flash at a comeback attempt that the Hurricanes mounted while trailing by two.
Goals from Ryan Sproul and Kevin Hayes, both tallied in the second period, were all the Rangers needed to win this one.
Already out of postseason contention coming in, New York ensured a four-game season sweep over the Hurricanes who joined them as another team on the outside looking in as the NHL playoffs approach.
Led by a 40-save showcase performance from goalkeeper Henrik Lundqvist, the Hurricanes’ struggle to score surfaced once more.
“We have a hard time scoring against this team, for sure,” Peters said.
“But, you know, we have a hard time scoring in general.”
Strong start, sloppy second
An 11-save first period from Hurricanes goaltender Cam Ward included some impressive stops.
The veteran keeper made a big stop on Filip Chytil’s breakaway opportunity seven minutes into the first.
A pad save on Mats Zuccarello kept it a scoreless battle that continued into the second period.
However, all of that was wiped away by an ugly second period by the team in front of him, as Carolina coughed up the puck four times with costly results, even while outshooting New York by a 12-5 margin.
The most significant was a turnover by forward Sebastian Aho on the power play that turned into an odd-man rush that ended with Hayes redirecting a pass from Jesper Fast past a sprawling Ward at the 13:23 mark.
The shorthanded marker eventually became the difference.
Denial and lack of power
At the other end, Lundqvist made key stops on several Hurricanes shooters, including Skinner, Aho, Phil Di Giuseppe, and Justin Williams.
“I thought in the first we were our most dangerous offensively,” Peters continued.
“I don’t know, in the third we had some volume shots; I don’t know if we had much quality there.”
While Skinner tucked a pass from Derek Ryan past Lundqvist, the Rangers netminder held on and was a difference-maker during a game-ending power play that Carolina was unable to convert to tie the game.
“It was frustrating that we couldn’t finish – we had chances,” Skinner said.
“We had enough (opportunities) I think to be able to finish more than one.”
No one likes losing
While talking of mistakes that were made that allowed the Rangers to capitalize and take the lead, Hurricanes co-captain Jordan Staal maintained that the team will remained focused on working to win its remaining three games.
“I think we’ve known for a while, officially, unofficially, we still gotta be ready to work and be a pro and win games, and play well for our fans,” Staal said.
“I thought we had a solid effort tonight. A few mistakes and we came up short.”
When asked to elaborate on what he meant by “being a pro”, Staal stated: “It’s building a team, building an organization, it’s building work ethic, and no one likes losing. That’s never fun walking out of here with a loss. It’s always better to play hard for each other and find ways to win whether they mean something or not.”
Peter Koutroumpis: 401-323-8960, @pksport