RALEIGH, N.C. – The Carolina Hurricanes started their 2013-2014 National Hockey League (NHL) season with a 3-2 overtime loss to the Detroit Red Wings in front of a sold out crowd of 18,680 at PNC Arena on Friday.
For those who follow the team, it may have seemed like déjà vu all over again.
They earned a point, but they came up short in a game that looked as though it would have earned them two.
However, it didn’t come about as easily as it looked, and showed that Carolina is a work in progress as head coach Kirk Muller alluded to a day earlier.
“We knew we had an opponent here tonight that played well,” Muller said.
“They’re not going to beat themselves. They’re gonna’ force you to play 60 minutes, or more than 60 minutes. A lot of good things in our game tonight – it was a great measuring stick for us. A lot of positives to take out of it, but we also gotta’ learn from giving a point away.”
The last time the two teams met was March 24, 2012, a game in which the Hurricanes led 4-3 before being outscored in the third period to lose to the Red Wings 5-4 on the road.
This time, in their first meeting as Eastern Conference foes in the newly realigned NHL, and the first-ever that Detroit came in as an opening night opponent for Carolina in Raleigh, the result came out the same.
Leading 2-0 after two periods of play, the Hurricanes allowed the Red Wings to score three unanswered goals, including the sudden death overtime winner from Stephen Weiss to send their fans home with mixed emotions.
Forwards Radek Dvorak and Nathan Gerbe each tallied their first goals of the season and as new members of the team, while goaltender Cam Ward made 35 saves in the losing effort.
“It sucks losing,” Gerbe said afterwards.
“It’s never fun. It’s a bad feeling. A tough way to go to bed, but as a player you have to find every positive you can from the game and build off that. We gotta’ look at what we did wrong.”
Both teams played a tight-checking first 10 minutes of play and each managed to place only two shots apiece on net at the time.
Detroit’s neutral zone trap was tough to penetrate for Carolina and forced the Hurricanes to play more of a dump n’ chase style of play to work around it.
At the other end of the ice, the Red Wings were able to gain the zone much more easily with puck possession, and gave Ward lots of work throughout the game, outshooting Carolina 38-25.
Playing in his 1211th game of his career, and after signing a one-year deal with Carolina two days earlier, Dvorak scored the first goal of the season for the Hurricanes and gave them a 1-0 lead with 13:30 to play in the period.
After Jeff Skinner gained the zone on a breakout pass from Justin Faulk, Dvorak reached to tip the puck as Skinner slid it towards the low slot.
As Red Wings defenseman Kyle Quincy let up on the play while the puck slid towards goalkeeper Jimmy Howard, Dvorak’s blade deflected it high into the top corner of the net over the sprawling keeper’s shoulder.
Effective forechecking work by Gerbe and linemates Patrick Dwyer and Jordan Staal hemmed the puck along the boards behind the Red Wings goal line and allowed Carolina to keep its 1-0 by the end of the first period.
Outshooting the Hurricanes 8-4, Detroit increased its offensive pressure early in the second period, carrying the puck easily into the Carolina zone and challenging Ward to stay sharp.
As Carolina eventually put its share of shots on Howard, it also got its first power play of the game just past the midpoint of the period.
Muller used two different line combinations but the Hurricanes couldn’t capitalize on the first extra-man opportunity of the season presented to them.
Even while continuing to move the puck consistently through the neutral zone and keeping the edge in shots on goal, the Red Wings couldn’t beat Ward.
Later in the period, as Skinner tried to play the puck deep into the Detroit zone, he was slowed enough to draw a penalty on Brendan Smith that gave Carolina its second power play opportunity of the game.
It was one that Gerbe took advantage of as he put the Hurricanes up 2-0 at 18:11 with a power play goal that came about from a deflected point shot.
As Gerbe sat all alone on the crease to Howard’s left, Faulk’s shot ended up on his stick which he quickly redirected under the sprawling keeper’s left pad to give Carolina a comfortable two-goal cushion which it carried into the second intermission.
Detroit only needed only 42 seconds into the third period to get to within one goal as Justin Abdelkader put a shot between Ward’s pads after a redirected pass from Henrik Zetterberg found him wide upon on the left crease.
Holding onto a 2-1 lead, the line of Gerbe, Staal, and Dwyer continued to challenge the Red Wings defense, and with just over 10 minutes left in the period, put more shots on Howard to defuse Detroit’s offensive energy at the other end of the rink put towards Ward.
With less than six minutes to play, the Hurricanes’ top line of Eric Staal, Alexander Semin and Jiri Tlusty added more pressure on Howard whose 23-save performance kept Detroit in the game throughout.
Ward continued to stand tall as well, facing shots from Zetterberg, Pavel Datsyuk, and Johan Franzen among others.
With a minute remaining to play, Detroit pulled Howard and coach Mike Babcock sent all the offense he had onto the ice as Daniel Alfredsson, Niklas Kromwall, and Stephen Weiss joined Zetterberg, Datsyuk, and Franzen to continue to wreak havoc on Ward and the Hurricanes defense which showed signs of fatigue.
Unable to clear the puck successfully, Hurricanes players scrambled as Alfredsson slid a pass from behind the net and into the slot area where Zetterberg eventually found enough space through the crowd to put the puck past Ward and sent the game into overtime.
While salvaging a point, the Hurricanes were unable to deny Weiss from scoring the game-winning goal for the Red Wings with 1:47 left to play in the sudden death period.
“Effort-wise, I thought everyone came hard tonight (and) to play,” Muller said.
“I thought overall it was a good hockey game. Two teams played really well and unfortunately we came up short at the end.”