By Peter Koutroumpis
RALEIGH, N.C. – It didn’t start, nor end in any way close to how the Carolina Hurricanes wanted it to.
Led by forward Johnny Gaudreau as the offensive catalyst, the Flames handed the Hurricanes a 4-1 loss at PNC Arena on Sunday afternoon.
Lee Stempniak scored the lone goal for Carolina and denied Calgary netminder Mike Smith the shutout while facing 39 shots.
Defensemen Dougie Hamilton scored two, while Matt Stajan and Matthew Tkachuk each added one as Carolina goalkeeper Scott Darling faced 30 shots in the losing effort.
“We were just flat, we weren’t skating early,” Stempniak said.
“I think we were, as I said, flat and turnin’ some pucks over, and they were comin’ the other way on 3-on-2s, 2-on-1s in the first and we were down by a couple. It’s hard to come back; we never really got back. I thought we played a little bit better in the second, better in the third. It’s too big of a hole to climb out of.”
Following a gut-wrenching 4-3 loss to the Washington Capitals two days earlier, the Hurricanes had to try to literally douse the ‘red hot’ Flames.
After beating Calgary in their building back on Oct. 19th, Carolina didn’t come close to taking the two-game series between the two clubs.
The Flames came in and simply skated through and around the Hurricanes and extended their current win streak to eight games and split the series.
“It was definitely a tough loss for us, that Washington game,” forward Brock McGinn said.
“It carried over a bit – we came out pretty sluggish there. I think it was as little tough for us after we were down two.”
Calgary started quickly.
Curtis Lazar did the initial work to gain the zone, and after Justin Faulk’s stick left his hands, and with defensive partner Jaccob Slavin hurling himself along the ice to slow him down, Lazar danced around Slavin and made the play.
With a delayed penalty coming to Slavin for tripping Lazar, Stajan jumped forward and snapped the loose puck past Darling and put the Flames ahead 1-0 at 6:01.
With both teams playing a heavy game, eventually dishing out a combined 56 hits, Calgary took advantage of its opportunities near the end of the period as a hit from Ferland by the benches sent Hurricanes forward Sebastian Aho flying.
Gaudreau picked the puck up from Ferland, gained the Carolina zone, and with time and space slid a pass to Hamilton who ripped a shot past Darling.
Facing a 2-0 deficit to start the second, Carolina looked to up its pace.
The line combination of Justin Williams, Jordan Staal and McGinn came close at the nine-minute mark, but McGinn couldn’t bat the puck out of the air into the open net.
That play was followed up by a wrist shot from Marcus Kruger that hit the crossbar and flew out of play.
The attempt came on a delayed penalty to Hamilton for hooking which afforded Carolina the chance it needed to cut into its deficit.
A big glove save by Smith on a point-blank shot from Faulk denied that.
However, another Calgary penalty allowed the Hurricanes another man-advantage to work with.
Tight defensive seals by Calgary within the slot and inconsistent puck control along the blue line by Carolina prevented anymore threatening scoring opportunities to develop.
While Carolina’s power play had been productive in recent games, scoring only once with an eventual six total chances on the night worked against the Hurricanes.
Calgary carried its 2-0 lead into the third, despite being outshot 16-12 in the previous period.
Things went from bad to worse for Carolina
A shoulder-to-head hit from Flames defenseman Mark Giordano on Aho during the opening minutes of the frame eventually resulted in hand-to-hand combat between Williams and the Calgary Captain.
Aho lay on the ice while the entire melee played out and eventually skated off on his own with some help from the trainers.
He never returned.
“I was surprised he (Aho) continued on with the puck to be honest with you,” Carolina head coach Bill Peters said.
“I thought he was in a real good spot to shoot it, but he continued on. Obviously, there’s some head contact – I don’t know if there’s much intent to be honest with you – I thought his arm was tucked in low, but he ended up catching the head. So, it was unfortunate.”
A match penalty and major for head contact along with a fighting major was assessed to Giordano while Williams earned an instigator penalty and fighting major.
On the next sequence of play, controversy erupted when it appeared that a wrist shot from McGinn went in.
However, with the referee waving it off, play continued into the Carolina zone where Gaudreau set up a play to Tkatchuk and then to Hamilton who finished it off and extended the Flames lead to three goals at the 3:17 mark.
A video review confirmed that McGinn’s shot hit the post over Smith’s left shoulder, and then traveled under the cross bar out of the goal, never crossing the plane of the goal line.
With yet another power play near the midpoint of the period, the Hurricanes could not put any pucks past Smith.
Calgary’s offense simply outmatched and outworked Carolina’s defense, and Tkachuk’s goal at 12:08 on the power play further compounded the point.
Trailing 4-0, a goal from Stempniak with 4:31 remaining, his first of the season and on the power play, was little consolation for what the Hurricanes endured in this one.
The Hurricanes begin their bye week on Monday and will have five days to take a “mental break” as Peters called it before heading to Detroit on Friday.
While saying his team looked slow, Peters hoped it was due to the flu bug that’s been going around.
He said that the five days off may have come at the right time.
“I didn’t think we were engaged in the game, period,” Peters said.
“I didn’t think we skated. I didn’t think we had much emotional engagement to the game.”
Peter Koutroumpis: 401-323-8960, @pksport