RALEIGH, N.C. — Perhaps with some time off for the Olympic break, the Carolina Hurricanes (26-22-9) can convince themselves it’s January again.
It was the only month this year when the Hurricanes had a winning record — 10-4-0. In October-December, they were 15-16-9.
February, though, has gotten off to a bad start at 1-2, as the Montreal Canadiens (32-21-6) came to PNC Arena and left with a 4-1 victory. Now, the Hurricanes will be off until February 25, when they start a five-game road trip with a makeup game at Buffalo.
"Obviously we wanted to come in here and get those two points before we left. It’s a tight race as it is, and we didn’t have the effort or, I don’t think, the drive that we needed to get the two points obviously tonight," said Justin Faulk, who will be on his way to Sochi to join Team USA. "In a game like that, especially before the break, we needed to kind of leave it all out there. But it didn’t go our way. We didn’t get it done."
They won’t be back at PNC Arena until March 7, and they’ll only be back there nine more times the rest of the year.
In a tight Eastern Division, the Hurricanes certainly didn’t do themselves any favors by squandering early momentum, getting out to a 1-0 lead early in the second and controlling the first 38 minutes of play, nearly.
But two goals from the Canadiens in the final 2:08 of the second period gave the Habs a 2-1 lead and all the momentum.
"Disappointing because first period, we come out to play last night and we played a good, smart first period (tonight)," Hurricanes head coach Kirk Muller said. "We felt like we weren’t giving them anything, and continuing into the second and all that. But we made a couple breakdowns and they capitalized, and I think that was the difference. Overall … we were fine except our breakdowns cost us."
"We were feeling good. It was a big goal and we had the momentum, I thought," Drayson Bowman, who scored the Hurricanes’ only goal, said. "Unfortunately we let it slip there at the end of the second. You can’t let that happen. That’s a good team over there."
The fast start didn’t even save the Hurricanes this time. They were 16-1-4 when scoring first this season and hadn’t lost a game when scoring first since December 27. Now, make it 16-2-4.
Of course, perhaps the bigger problem is one that was plaguing the Hurricanes in most of 2013 — their star players were no-shows.
Muller said after the game that his fourth line was the team’s best line. While it’s certainly a compliment to those guys, who have worked hard all season and been key in Carolina’s victories, it’s not a good thing for the team overall.
"Our fourth line was our best line tonight. I thought we had some guys that, we had some guys tonight that played really well, played hard, but we didn’t have everybody on board and that doesn’t cut it in this league," Muller said. "It was disappointing. It was disappointing because some guys didn’t bring their ‘A’ game here tonight."
A few Hurricanes will be headed to Sochi along with Faulk — Andrej Sekera (Slovakia), Tuomo Ruutu (Finland) and Alexander Semin (Russia). The rest of the guys are going to have to take some time to rest, since the rest of the season is going to be quite the grind.
Muller said he’ll encourage the team to take 4-5 days off from even working out individually, and then the team will resume practice on February 20. But they’ll only have a few days, so they get less practice time.
"We’re going to have a real tough one starting right after, so they need to get a real good mental and physical break for 4-5 days, but then there’s time there after that to really get back to the working out," Muller said.
"We just said, ‘Hey, listen, we got a game thrown in on us early, the Buffalo one from the snowstorm, so we have a few less practice days than other teams.’ So as soon as we get in … they come in and ready to go, the quicker we can work on the x’s and o’s of the game and get us prepared going to Buffalo."