RALEIGH, N.C. – The Carolina Hurricanes just could not beat goaltender Curtis McElhinney and as a result, suffered a 4-0 loss at the hands of the Toronto Maple Leafs at PNC Arena on Sunday.
It wasn’t for a lack of shot attempts as McElhinny made 37 saves and earned his fifth career shutout and first of the season.
Carolina rifled 53 total shots (16 missed) toward the Leafs net throughout the game, but the 31 combined that Toronto put on goaltenders Cam Ward and Eddie Lack found space to bulge the twine.
“We were in the game and Wardo’s makin’ some good stops for us,” forward Jeff Skinner said.
“Then, somehow we give up too many Grade-A’s and they find ways to capitalize on their chances, and we don’t find a way to capitalize on ours.”
Connor Brown’s two goals, along with singles from Auston Matthews and defenseman Jake Gardiner provided the Leafs the offense to avenge a 2-1 Hurricanes win in Toronto back on Nov. 22nd.
More importantly at this point in the season, the Leafs took a valuable two points and placed it in their column in the NHL Eastern Conference wildcard race.
Hurricanes head coach Bill Peters kept his responses very simple on the loss which followed a 2-1 shortfall to Colorado in overtime on Friday.
“A lot of the goals had a common theme,” he said.
“We got outskated a little bit and lost body position.”
Following a scoreless first period during which Carolina outshot the Leafs by a 15-9 margin, Brown and Matthews scored during the first 10 minutes of the second.
Getting ahead of Hurricanes defenseman Noah Hanifin, Brown redirected a James Van Riemsdyk saucer pass over Ward’s shoulder at the 1:07 mark.
Approaching the midpoint of the period, Matthews found space to drive down the left boards with recently recalled Hurricanes forward Phil Di Giuseppe trailing with stick and hands around him.
Matthews scored his 28th of the season, maintaining control of the puck long enough while airborne to backhand it through Ward’s pad after being hooked by Di Giuseppe.
The goal tied Matthews for first amongst all rookies with Winnipeg’s Patrik Laine.
The closest a shot came to beating McElhinney was a point blast from Carolina defenseman Justin Faulk that hit the post with eight minutes remaining in the period.
Toronto carried its 2-0 lead into the third.
Gardiner scored his eighth of the season with a shot from the left point that beat Ward short to his stick side as he struggled to get eyes on the puck with multiple bodies in front of him.
Two minutes later, Brown scored his second, the result of a give-and-go with another return saucer pass from Van Riemsdyk that he managed to put past Ward.
Lack then came in at that point, and faced seven shots for the remaining 10:58, stopping all of them, but with no productive offensive support coming from Carolina’s forwards.
“I thought we were fine after 20 and then through 40, I thought we could’ve been on the board and we weren’t,” Peters said.
“Then the third one took a lot of the wind out of our sails.”
“It’s a game that we needed to win,” Jordan Staal added.
“We worked hard for the first two periods. I thought we had a lot of chances, but we just needed one in the third. There was really nothing there in the third.”