RALEIGH, N.C. – The Carolina Hurricanes suffered a 5-2 loss to the Washington Capitals at PNC Arena on Thursday.
It was the team’s final performance of the season at home in front of a crowd of 15,735 in attendance who got a hat for walking through the door, but not a win to remember the occasion by.
“It wasn’t a good game overall,” Hurricanes head coach Kirk Muller said.
“It looked like two teams that, for the last couple of days, were mathematically out of the playoffs and it looked like just a sloppy game. I don’t think it was really a good hockey game. For our last game at home, we were hoping for more.”
Sure, they kept the NHL’s leading goal scorer Alex Ovechkin off the score sheet while still winning the season series 3-2, but knowing that they weren’t competing to prepare for the playoffs seemed to finally sink in according to Muller.
“This game is built on energy, emotion and tempo,” he continued.
“If you lost that, you’re just goin’ out and playin’ the game. For the most part, I think all the games this year, our guys pushed. I don’t think there’s any quit in them, but you did see that tonight was the first game the fact of not goin’ to the playoffs (sunk in). We didn’t have the energy that you need to win a hockey game.”
As they finished the season with an 18-17-6 record playing in Raleigh, the Hurricanes couldn’t defend against the line of Joel Ward, Mark Chimera, and Eric Fehr as well as Troy Brouwer who finished the game with two goals.
It look as though Carolina wasn’t ready for the trio that combined for nine points, tallying three of the Capitals’ five goals, and playing active roles in helping each other score on Hurricanes netminder Anton Khudobin who made 16 saves in the losing effort.
At the other end, Capitals goalie Braden Holtby fortified his team’s defensive end, faced 38 total shots and frustrated Carolina’s shooters throughout the game with only Jiri Tlusty and Radek Dvorak being the fortunate ones to beat him.
Ward put the Capitals up 1-0 just 62 seconds after the opening puck drop with an exceptional deke in the crease area to beat Khudobin.
Fehr played the puck from behind the Carolina net after Chimera collided with Hurricanes defenseman Jay Harrison and forced it free.
With Ward standing on the edge of Khudobin’s crease, Fehr’s quick pass caught the goaltender too far over and while he scrambled to play for it, Ward pulled it away from his reach and put it into the open net.
Holtby held his own during the opening period, turning away a number of quality scoring opportunities from the Hurricanes to keep his team ahead 1-0 heading into the first intermission.
Carolina maintained puck possession in the Capitals zone early in the second, but Holtby fielded each puck tossed at him easily while Khudobin got busy in his end as the pace of play changed directions during the first five minutes of play.
The Hurricanes line of Eric and Jordan Staal, along with Alexander Semin created quality scoring opportunities throughout the game, but couldn’t beat Holtby.
By the end of the game, the three had combined for 11 shots on goal and 15 shot attempts that were blocked or had missed the net.
“He’s a good goalie,” Jordan Staal said of Holtby.
“We created chances – some Grade A chances that we didn’t bury and a lot of the other ones just from the outside. I think like any goalie, you just gotta’ get in front of him and make sure he doesn’t see the puck. He’s gonna’ stop most of those from the outside, so it’s a matter of gettin’ to the net and finding either a rebound or gettin’ in front of him.”
While Holtby kept Carolina’s shooters at bay, Chimera extended the Capitals lead to 2-0 at 10:58 as he got in close to Khudobin before tucking the puck under his pads.
Ward and Fehr helped to work the puck to Chimera after winning a puck battle against Hurricanes defenseman Brett Bellemore.
With 6:57 remaining in the period, Carolina got its first power play opportunity to try to cut into the two-goal deficit.
However, Holtby stood his ground and as Carolina’s man-advantage ended, Washington’s first extra-man sequence began as Semin was put in the box for slashing.
Fortunately for the Hurricanes, Washington’s power play, the second-best in the NHL, didn’t execute any better and it was Jordan Staal and Tlusty who made them pay for it.
Staal intercepted a pass along the boards and broke out of his zone, skated through the neutral zone, and over the Washington blue line on a two-on-one with Tlusty.
After drawing Holtby and Capitals defenseman John Carlson’s attention towards him, Staal slid the puck across the slot to the Czech forward who snapped the puck into a wide-open net, a shorthanded goal, narrowing the score to 2-1 with 2:44 to play.
It looked as though the Hurricanes were turning the corner as just over a minute later, Khudobin made a sliding pad save on Ward while Washington worked to regain its two-goal lead.
It didn’t take long as with 35.1 seconds remaining in the period, Brouwer one-timed a Marcus Johannson cross-zone pass and put Washington ahead 3-1.
After Bellemore attempted to clear the puck off the glass following a Carolina faceoff win to Khudobin’s right, Capitals defensemen Karl Alzner batted it down and found Johannson open in the right corner to set the goal up before the period ended.
The Capitals didn’t take long to extend their lead as they scored two goals 62 seconds apart early in the third.
Fehr got his chance to score and beat Khudobin with a one-timer at 2:25 while Brouwer scored his second of the game at 3:27, also scoring with a one-timer.
Even in seeing Brouwer standing in the slot flanked by Hurricanes defenders, Johannson found him open enough to enable him to put the Capitals ahead 5-1 with 16:33 remaining.
“That wasn’t my best game, definitely,” Khudobin said.
“That’s something that didn’t go to my way. (Shots) hit the sticks, a couple of deflections and stuff like that. You have to get over it.”
While Khudobin and the Hurricanes defense seemed a stride slower than Washington’s shooters, Carolina’s forwards picked up their pace in an attempt to score during the game’s final 10 minutes.
It was with 1:52 remaining that Dvorak was open in the slot and a Justin Faulk centering pass ended up on his stick that allowed him to tuck the puck away to narrow the score to 5-2.
Even with the late tally, the deficit was too large and the space around Holtby wasn’t as the Hurricanes lost their third consecutive game.
“It wasn’t good enough, clearly,” Hurricanes captain Eric Staal said.
“We had breakdowns and they ended up in our net. It just wasn’t good enough. There’s not much else to say. We needed to do better than we did tonight. I feel bad for the fans that were here watchin’ and came out to support us. I appreciate the ones that stayed and were there at the end clappin’ because I know it hasn’t been easy. It hasn’t been easy for me personally over the last five years, so we gotta’ respond and be better tomorrow.”