RALEIGH, N.C. — The only thing consistent about the Carolina Hurricanes (31-32-9) all season long has been their inconsistency. Well, that, and a slow start to games — particularly in losses.
Sometimes, the Hurricanes have been able to overcome that slow start — a quick one-goal deficit, maybe even a quick two-goal deficit — either later in the first period or in the second period.
But the Hurricanes had never had a first 10 minutes of a game quite like they did against the New York Islanders (28-35-9) in a 5-4 loss at home.
"You can’t come out and spot a team four goals in the first period and come back and win the hockey game," head coach Kirk Muller said. "It’s a mystery why we come out so hesitant and afraid to play in the first period."
The four-goal lead wasn’t the worst part of it. The Islanders, one of the worst teams in the league and a team the Hurricanes should beat as they continue to fight for a playoff spot, led 4-0 in the first ELEVEN minutes. And the Islanders took the first 10 shots of the game before the Hurricanes took their first shot on goal, which came 9:12 into the first.
Goalie Cam Ward was pulled after 6:12 of game action when the Islanders went up 3-0 and backup Anton Khudobin was put in, but Ward certainly wasn’t the issue. The team around him was, though.
Then after that, the Hurricanes scored 12:38 into the first and again at 15:06 to cut it to 4-2. It was a back-and-forth game most of the rest of the way as the Hurricanes scored twice in the second to cut it to a one-goal deficit, but couldn’t do anything else in the third.
The younger players afterward were at a loss as to how they came out poorly yet again.
"It’s pretty disappointing. The start, the way we come out, it’s killing us. We can’t let up 4-0 and then start hunting our shots," said Elias Lindholm. "If I knew (why), we probably would come out different. That’s something we need to keep talking about and keep reminding ourselves that we have to come out better."
"It’s tough to lose a game like that. You feel like a couple things go differently earlier on and it’s a little bit of a different game I think, because we sort of picked it up and we were right with them the rest of the way," said Jeff Skinner, who scored the Hurricanes’ first goal of the night.
This team has fought back from early deficits before and rallied to make it a game or at least extract a moral victory out of it.
This, as both Muller and veteran Jay Harrison knew, was no moral victory.
"The accountability within the room is coming to the point where this can’t be tolerated," said Harrison. "That’s all that can be said. It’s short and sweet. As you could see out there, there’s not much more that you can say about those first 10 minutes."
"Somewhere along the line," said a flummoxed Muller afterward, "we’ve got to learn that we’ve got to initiate hockey games rather than sit back and see what kind of games they’re going to be."
While the Hurricanes are still mathematically alive for a playoff spot, they understand how unlikely it is. Basically, it’s a less than 1 percent chance at this point.
When asked if there was extra pressure on his team because of that playoff possibility looming, however remote, Muller dismissed that right away.
"I think that’s an excuse. That’s what we’re in this business for. You shouldn’t feel pressure. You should enjoy it — enjoy the moment, enjoy the competition," said Muller. "We just won two out of three. We’re playing good hockey. We’re coming home. I don’t see the pressure. I think we should be coming out hard and building. We went the other direction."
Harrison echoed that sentiment, in as blunt a postgame interview as you’ll get from a Carolina Hurricane.
He knows that this team likely has nothing more to play for this season than pride with 10 games to go.
But to him — and to most professional athletes — that means everything.
"We’re professional athletes and we want to go out there and continue to play every game like it’s our last, like we’re playing for our lives, which we are," said Harrison. "In this business, you’re only as good as your last game. As a team, it’s the same.
"We have that pride in this room to go out there and play the best we can and win the games that we should win and put the effort that we can put forward. And nothing short of that will be acceptable."