RALEIGH, N.C. – The tag line described the Carolina Hurricanes as continuing to make a ‘push for the playoffs’ when they faced off against the Dallas Stars at PNC Arena on Saturday.
However, that push was reduced to barely a shove following a 3-0 loss to the Stars.
Chasing a wildcard spot sitting six points behind the Boston Bruins, Carolina had to extend its 13-game point streak to keep that drive alive.
The loss limited the possibility of further vying for postseason eligibility with only five games remaining.
Following a dramatic 2-1 comeback victory in overtime over the Columbus Blue Jackets on Thursday, the Hurricanes began another tight-checking opening period against the Stars.
However, they just couldn’t score any goals, nor got the result they needed.
“I thought everything was a grind,” Hurricanes head coach Bill Peters said.
“Everything seemed hard; everything was a split second late, or in the feet offensively. So, I didn’t think we executed as we have here recently, but a lot of that is because of the fact that they were above us and had a lot of puck pressure.”
Dallas goalie Kari Lehtonen made 25 saves and earned his third shutout of the season while Carolina’s Cam Ward stopped all but one of the 22 shots he faced.
The Hurricanes just couldn’t get more shots on net as they missed on 10 others and had 16 more blocked in one form or fashion.
According to forward Lee Stempniak, Carolina wasn’t as sharp as it had been during its recent stretch of going 9-0-4.
“Sharp is the right word,” Stempniak said.
“We weren’t as sharp as we needed to be. Pucks were bouncin’ a little bit, and we just weren’t able to make the plays we had been making.”
Both teams produced 13 total shots combined – 7-6 in favor of the Hurricanes – as the puck remained in the corners and throughout the neutral zone for much of the first period.
Carolina’s recent call-up, Lucas Wallmark had the best chance at even strength to break the scoreless tie, but Lehtonen made a blocker save on the play.
With the only power play of the game, a slam-dunk opportunity for the Hurricanes went wide when Elias Lindholm couldn’t find the back of the net on a feed from Teuvo Teravainen late in the period.
At the other end, Ward made a sliding body save on a one-timer at the top of the right circle from Dallas’ Tyler Seguin.
Both teams went into the first intermission scoreless.
“I think we had a tough time getting through the neutral zone without any kind of puck possession or any kind of forecheck,” Carolina’s Jordan Staal said.
“I felt like we ended up stopping at the blue line a lot while we were chippin’ it in. Every time we were turned around and headed back out again.”
“We knew how hungry they were – the only thing we can do is be spoilers and take some pride in how we play,” Dallas head coach Lindy Ruff said.
“We waited for our opportunity and we got our opportunity.”
Coming off the left boards, Jason Spezza finally put Dallas on the sheet with a snap shot over Ward’s trapper at 4:46 of the second period.
Skating behind the Carolina defense following a blocked shot in front of Lehtonen, defenseman Remi Elie fed the Stars forward a perfect banked pass in the neutral zone that created a 2-on-1 with Cody Eakin that put Dallas ahead 1-0.
The Stars continued to defend the Hurricanes tight in their zone and denied every scoring opportunity – either by blocking them in front of Lehtonen or by Carolina missing the net entirely.
Dallas continued to lead by one after two periods.
Carolina picked up its pace of puck movement early in the third, but Lehtonen stayed sharp to deny the quick shots they put towards him.
Getting only one shot on goal, missing one, and getting four blocked, Carolina’s Jeff Skinner was eventually kept off the sheet along with the rest of his team.
“They were tight on us,” Skinner said.
“It was tough for us to penetrate. I think we had a couple of pretty good looks in some high quality areas, but they did a decent job of limiting us.”
With 13 minutes remaining, Ward continued to do his best and kept the deficit at one when he got his pads down on a Spezza breakaway.
Carolina defenseman Brett Pesce soon followed up with a wrist shot from the high slot, but Lehtonen maintained his consistency in squaring up at the top of his crease, and made the stop.
The Hurricanes continued to press offensively as the crowd of 14,000 stood up cheering, hoping that their energy would help their team to tie the game with five minutes remaining.
A shot from Jaccob Slavin bounced off Lehtonen’s pads.
Then came separate point shots from Justin Faulk and Noah Hanifin that bounced out of harm’s way as well.
“We had some good chances, a lot of shots and some rebounds, but we just weren’t able to find ‘em,” Hurricanes forward Lee Stempniak said.
The minutes continued to count down and so did the opportunities for Carolina until one of the final daggers sank into Caniacs’ hearts when John Klingberg scored an empty-net goal with 1:57 to go.
A turnover 32 seconds later following a deflected pass in the neutral zone put the puck on the stick of Dallas’ Devin Shore who deposited the puck into the empty Carolina net once more.
The majority of the crowd headed for the exits with 1:25 to play.
With something still to play for, Peters and his team were busy preparing to head to Pittsburgh for a 5 p.m. facoff on Sunday.
“It’s a quick turnaround,” he said.
“We’re gonna hop on a plane, talk about what we need to talk about, decide who needs to start in net, and we play at five o’clock. We’re gonna get ready to play; that routine won’t change. We’re gonna find a way to get skating and engaged in that game.”