RALEIGH, N.C. — Playing the last two Stanley Cup champs in the span of five days was no easy task, and the Carolina Hurricanes (2-2-3) wanted to make sure they got off to a good start with high energy against the reigning champion Chicago Blackhawks (4-1-1) on Tuesday.
The energy? That was there. But the good start? Not so much.
It was two defensive mistakes — first on a breakaway and then an inability to clear the puck at the end of a penalty kill — that led to the Blackhawks getting two quick goals to go up 2-0 barely ten minutes into the game.
And when Blackhawks’ star Marian Hossa — who had just one goal going into the game — was able to get the second one, it felt like it was a dangerous time for the Hurricanes. Not just for the game, but perhaps the season. Things were unraveling.
So head coach Kirk Muller called a timeout to regroup. He said he told his team: “Hey listen, you know what? The energy’s there tonight. I know you guys came here ready to play. You’re excited about the challenge. … There’s a lot of hockey left. Let’s just grind it out, find ways to keep playing here. No one panic, hit the restart button and just carry on.”
He also warned them it might take 60 minutes to tie the game up, and it very nearly did.
“I really liked the way our guys, our leaders really took charge tonight, kept everyone composed,” Muller said. “Then we went out and had a good second and third period, climbed back into it and tied the game. I thought we just had a really good effort by our players tonight.”
The Blackhawks played seemingly the entire first period at the ‘Canes’ end and outshot them, 15-5. But they got a bit more conservative in the second, and Carolina outshot them 14-8 in that frame.
In the third, the Hurricanes’ strategy of attacking Chicago goalie Corey Crawford — who seemed impenetrable at times — paid off, as Alexander Semin put in the rebound of an Eric Staal miss for the ‘Canes’ first goal at four minutes into the third.
Then just over 12 minutes into the third, Ron Hainsey was able to get his first goal of the year (and first since March 2011), as his shot snuck under a Blackhawks’ stick (and Crawford had lost his stick behind the net).
“Getting pucks to the net, and we tried to make a note of having more bodies in front of Crawford to not let him see the puck,” Hurricanes goalie Cam Ward said. “Judging by his reaction on that second goal, he didn’t see it so obviously we were doing our job.”
The Blackhawks fans obviously had a good showing in terms of attendance, but there were plenty of Hurricanes’ fans there, too. And they got loud after that. “We stuck with it, rallied behind the crowd in the third period and had that adrenaline rush, had that buzz big-time,” Ward said.
When the game went to overtime, it felt like the Hurricanes had all the momentum. And they had a number of chances, including a power play. Point-blank shots on goal, or point-blank chances, and plenty of them, but none of them found the net.
Struggles on the power play aren’t new for the Hurricanes (4-of-32 on the year), and they were 0-4 tonight with an advantage. But the missed opportunities weren’t haunting Muller after the fact, because he was pleased with his team’s execution.
“We had chances. Both goalies were really good. Some nights, you’re not happy with the execution or whatever. … The chances were there,” Muller said. “We tried it and (Crawford) came up with some big saves. That’s just pretty much the way the game was. It was just a really entertaining, hard-fought game that the two teams I thought played really well.”
But overtime ended with no scoring, and it went to a shootout, another area of frustration for the Hurricanes, both this year and in general. Carolina is 0-3 in overtime games with those of those losses coming in shootouts.
Ward saved 34 of the 36 shots he saw, and he saved the first two shots of the shootout, too. But Patrick Sharp, who scored the first goal of the game for Chicago, snuck one by Ward for the game-deciding shootout goal.
Carolina didn’t score a goal in the shootout.
“The shootout is the shootout,” Hainsey said. “I think we’re all aware of that at this point. … Tonight, we fell behind but played well for the most part and did what we wanted to do. There’s obviously always stuff to work on, but there’s plenty of good things happening here too.”
As the Hurricanes prepare to take a four-game road trip while the NC State Fair is in town (starting on Thursday at Toronto), they’re happy with where they are. In the two games where they’ve played poorly, they’ve lost. And in the games where they’ve competed well, they’ve been rewarded with at least one point.
“That’s a really good game and a big point against a team like that … just because of how we played. That’s the big thing. We bounced back from a game we weren’t happy with the other night,” Muller said.
“Overall, a lot of real positive things for us to take onto the road.”