TORONTO, ONTARIO – The Carolina Hurricanes suffered another loss, this time a 5-2 decision to the Toronto Maple Leafs at Air Canada Centre on Sunday.
Even while taking 43 shots on Toronto goaltender Jonathan Bernier and beating him twice on goals from Nathan Gerbe and Justin Faulk, Carolina couldn’t deny Phil Kessel, the Leafs leading scorer, from capitalizing on his chances on Hurricanes netminder Cam Ward.
“He played well,” Hurricanes head coach Kirk Muller said of Bernier’s performance.
“You can’t throw much more at him.”
At the other end, Ward made his first start for Carolina since a 4-2 loss to Washington on Dec. 20, and finished the game making 22 saves on 26 shots faced.
Kessel opened the game’s scoring at 16:56 of the first period with a shot from the right goal line extended that ricocheted the puck off Ward’s trapper and deflected into the net while the netminder slid across his crease in an attempt to cover the short side.
Trailing 1-0 early in the second period, Gerbe didn’t miss on a nice backhand pass from Alexander Semin as his wrist shot from the low slot handcuffed and beat Bernier to his blocker side.
The goal gave Gerbe four points (2g, 2a) in his last three games.
With the game tied 1-1, Carolina continued to pressure Toronto late into the period, but Kessel and Nikolai Kulemin scored 76 seconds apart to quickly give the Leafs a two-goal lead, leading 3-1 with 5:02 to play in the period.
Faulk then scored his third goal of the season just under three minutes later when he directed a one-time slap shot on net that deflected into the top corner past Bernier.
The power play set-up from blueline partner Andrej Sekera and forward Jeff Skinner brought the Hurricanes back to within a goal with 2:17 left before the second intermission.
Trailing 3-2 to begin the third period, Carolina maintained its momentum and pressure on Bernier, but it was an inadvertent turnover in its defensive end that eventually put them behind by two again.
As the puck slid back to the point, Leafs defenseman Paul Ranger teed it up and beat a screened Ward low and to his right to give Toronto a 4-2 lead with 15:02 to play.
Having ample time to tie the game, the Hurricanes didn’t lack for effort in trying to do so, but couldn’t put another puck past Bernier.
Carolina was unable to capitalize on their second power play opportunity of the game with just over seven minutes to play.
“When you fall behind, it’s tough to climb back,” Gerbe said.
“I thought when it comes to shots and chances – it’s there. We just gotta’ work on putting them in.”
Toronto maintained an even pace and tempo to keep Ward just as busy in his net late in the third period.
When the Hurricanes pulled Ward and put the extra skater on the ice with under a minute to play, it was Leafs captain Dion Phaneuf who got credit for the final goal scored in the game.
As the puck slid towards the open net, Carolina defenseman Ron Hainsey skated valiantly to prevent it from going in.
When he finally ran out of time and space, Hainsey collided with the net and knocked it off its moorings while falling to the ice, but it was too late as the puck had already crossed the goal line to count as the Leafs’ final goal.
“They capitalized on their chances and we didn’t,” Muller said.
“I thought we had a pretty darn good game. You know, when you get 40-somethin’ shots on net – we had two-on-one, three-on-twos – our opportunities didn’t happen. They’re known as an opportunist team, they had a couple of chances and they capitalized.”