RALEIGH, N.C. – Eighteen days.
That’s how long Caniacs have gone without witnessing the Surge, the triumphant choreography that follows a win at PNC Arena.
Following a three-game Western road trip that ended with one win, a 4-1 finish in Anaheim last Friday, the wait continued as the Carolina Hurricanes fell 4-1 to the Toronto Maple Leafs on Tuesday.
“They played a better game, for sure – early on anyway,” Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour said.
“We actually didn’t do what we wanted to do which was get more pucks to the net. We were trying to be too cute a lot of times. There were four, five chances in the first period when we were in the slot, but actually passed it away in the corner. We were right there and tried to make that pass. That’s not our team. We’re not built that way. We weren’t playing our game early.”
It was a slightly smaller crowd on hand, 11,907 compared to when the Hurricanes bested the Leafs 5-2 in their building back on Nov. 21st.
However, knowing that they had to combat a normally fast-skating, opportunistic Carolina squad, Toronto head coach Mike Babcock pointed out in his pregame presser that his team had to jump out of the gate first.
The Leafs did that, outshooting the Hurricanes 15-8 in the opening period and led 1-0 on a Tyler Ennis goal, his fifth of the season, into a yawning net full of mesh waiting to be dented.
“We started real good obviously, we came out and played,” Babcock said.
“A good goal for Ennis. I thought that was a good start for us.”
Carolina looked unusually off-pace in its puck movement, and though Toronto looked a little choppy in its play early on, it connected when it needed to.
Goaltender Peter Mrazek made 25 saves in the losing effort and was up to the task of keeping the Hurricanes in the game.
Unfortunately, he got no support at the other end as Toronto netminder Frederik Andersen earned the win with a 29-save performance.
Hurricanes captain Justin Williams scored his team’s lone goal when he tied it up on the power play at the 12:44 mark of the second period.
The play kind of resembled a road hockey restart after a car went by.
Sebastian Aho crossed the blue line with possession as the Leafs delayed in paying close attention to him.
Williams got behind the Toronto defense on a line change and caught goalkeeper Frederik Andersen off guard with a quick shot that went in on his glove-hand side.
Aside from his sixth goal of the season, the Hurricanes offense was MIA.
“It wasn’t there tonight from everybody,” Williams said.
Morgan Rielly soon gave the Leafs back one-goal lead, scoring just over a minute later – the result of an own-goal redirect off Hurricanes defenseman Dougie Hamilton’s stick.
Carrying the advantage into the third, Toronto extended its margin to 3-1 as Patrick Marleau finished a two-on-one break on a pass from William Nylander on a play initiated by Nazem Kadri.
John Tavares, playing in his 700th career NHL game pushed the lead to three goals on a setup from Mitch Marner with 11:31 remaining – his 19th marker on the season.
The win was the Leafs’ first in Raleigh since last November, and fourth in the two teams’ last six matchups.
“I didn’t think it was a 4-1 game,” Brind’Amour pointed out.
“I felt like we had opportunities. They capitalized. They get their 2-on-1, they put it in the back of the net. When we had a 2-on-1, we didn’t even get the pass across.There’s execution things that we gotta better at as a group.”
While seeking to maintain balance in its performance from game to game, the lack of consistency is a concern.
Carolina lost its fourth in five games after winning four of its five prior to that.
Sitting at an average 13-12-4, the Hurricanes currently sit five points out of a wildcard spot in the standings.
“There is huge urgency,” Williams said.
“We’re middling which is what we’ve done the past few years. It’s not good enough and we have to get a string (of wins) together. I keep saying that it seems every week. We need to get a string together. This was a good game to make a statement and follow it up and push to the next level. We didn’t get that.”
Peter Koutroumpis: 401-323-8960, @pksport