The Carolina Hurricanes didn’t have enough time to outpace the Winnipeg Jets in a 4-3 loss at PNC Arena in Raleigh, N.C. on Thursday.
After falling behind three times throughout the game, the Hurricanes were able to stay close and tie it each time led by the offensive efforts of Jiri Tlusty (2 goals) and Jordan Staal (1 goal).
However, it was Winnipeg’s Blake Wheeler who beat Hurricanes netminder Cam Ward with under five minutes to play that brought the Jets two points closer to Carolina in the standings.
“It’s frustrating,” Hurricanes head coach Kirk Muller said afterwards.
“We had an opportunity to win. We felt tonight that we played well enough to win. When you play a divisional game you want to pick up points somehow, but we didn’t do that. It’s unfortunate.”
Opening up all even
The Jets didn’t take long to get ahead of the Hurricanes as Wheeler handcuffed Carolina goaltender Cam Ward with a shot from the top-left circle.
Trailing 1-0, Muller was actively engaged in getting line changes and matchups sorted out, and rolling out all four lines early on.
“With a lot of new personnel in our lineup, we were trying to match a little bit more than normal,” Muller said.
“I thought we had all our four lines going pretty good until later on we kinda’ shortened it a little bit. We were trying to get the right matches – find out who’s playing well against who.”
The Hurricanes got their top line of Alexander Semin, Eric Staal, and Tlusty onto the ice at the right time near the latter part of the period.
With just under two minutes remaining, Carolina scored its most impressive-looking goal of the season.
After the puck slid into the corner to the left of the Jets net, Staal pushed it out of the corner and towards Semin who was standing in the faceoff circle.
Semin took a few strides towards the goal from the faceoff dot before he slid a backhand pass across the top of the crease and found Tlusty wide open to one-time it into the net.
Picking up the pace
The chip-and-chase style of play that both teams exhibited continued into the second period, with much skating and puck work taking place in between the blue lines.
With both teams playing with a bit more urgency, the hits got harder and more shot opportunities got blocked or just missed the mark, challenging both teams to get the puck to the net.
Even while Carolina outshot Winnipeg 8-6 during the scoreless period, both teams were afforded 5-on-3 power play opportunities that neither could capitalize on.
Ward, who finished with 19 saves on the night, and Jets keeper Ondrej Pavelec, made key saves during both power plays when they needed to, and kept the game deadlocked, 1-1, as the horn sounded to end the period.
Initial flurry of goals
As the final period of play began, it was the Jets who took advantage of a scramble for the puck in the Hurricanes zone.
Winnipeg forward Evander Kane snapped a shot between defenseman Joe Corvo’s legs and above Ward’s glove that gave Winnipeg a 2-1 lead with 17:50 left to play.
Carolina increased the heat on Pavelec as best they could, and he had to make keys saves on Pat Dwyer and Justin Faulk on different play sequences to keep the Jets ahead at the time.
It didn’t take long for the Hurricanes to tie the game for a second time though.
Just 87 seconds later, Jordan Staal won a faceoff to the left of Pavelec, and over to Pat Dwyer.
Dwyer passed it along on the boards and back to defenseman Jay Harrison, who then dumped the puck back towards the net.
Standing in the way of Harrison’s shot, Staal then got back possession of the puck in the faceoff circle, turned and scored with a bouncing puck that beat the Winnipeg keeper to even the score at 2-2.
Veteran and rookie milestones
While former Hurricanes forward and current Jets captain Andrew Ladd played in his 500th career game in the National Hockey League (NHL) on Thursday, Carolina rookie defenseman Ryan Murphy started the first of his career.
Both players played hard and tried to put their team in a position to win.
For Murphy, called up from the OHL’s Kitchener Rangers the day before as a result of three Hurricanes blue liners (Joni Pitkanen, Tim Gleason, Jamie McBain) sitting out with injuries, his 23 minutes and 53 seconds of ice time was only second to fellow defenseman Justin Faulk’s.
Entering the third period of play, the youngster didn’t play like one as he picked up the puck behind his net, started up the ice and wheeled it into the Jets zone, around defender Ron Hainsey, and put a shot on goal, one of two he had for the game with 13:55 remaining to play.
Though Pavelec made the save on Murphy’s shot, he showed much poise in making such a play which looked almost effortless during his first game in the league, with the game tied and during the third period of play no less.
“I thought he was great,” Muller said of the rookie’s play throughout the game.
“I thought Murph was real good. For a young kid he moves the puck well, (made) great decisions with the puck, joined the rush at the right time. I was really happy with him.”
Final flurry of goals
It was the veteran Ladd who put Winnipeg ahead for a third time in the game, and eventually ended up as the game’s first star, finishing with three points (1g, 2a) on the night.
After Jordan Staal won the faceoff to Ward’s left, the puck ended up in front of the net where Ladd was standing and he lit the lamp with just under six minutes to play.
Trailing 3-2, the Hurricanes didn’t take long to even the score once again as Tlusty picked up the loose puck in the middle of the slot in the Jets zone and beat Pavelec with a low shot over his pads, just 47 seconds later.
Just as the 18, 282 in attendance were finishing their high-fives and cheers and sipping their beers, Winnipeg took its final lead of the game and stunned the crowd back into silence just 16 seconds later.
As the Jets rush traveled through the neutral zone, a deflected pass caught some air and traveled over Hurricanes defenseman Joe Corvo’s head.
As he tried to bat it down, the veteran defenseman missed the puck as it flipped by his glove near his blue line where a wide-open Blake Wheeler picked it up and beat Ward, scoring the eventual game winner with 4:54 to play.
Though not for a lack of effort, Winnipeg held off the Hurricanes’ final offensive drives in trying to tie the game for a fourth time.
With 57.4 seconds remaining to play, those possibilities diminished considerably when a frustrated Jordan Staal was penalized for roughing, a call that earned brother and captain Eric, a 10-minute misconduct.
With no advantage to pulling Ward during the final seconds of the game, Carolina suffered its second consecutive loss in four days.
“This is where we are as a group,” Muller said.
“We’ve gotta’ challenge each other – we’ve got injuries. At the end of the day, it’s no excuses. Everyone’s got a job to do and we gotta’ get it done, and gotta’ win and pick up points as we move along here. We win as team, lose as a team. We didn’t close the door at the end as a group.”
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