The Carolina Hurricanes suffered a frustrating 3-2 setback at the hands of the New Jersey Devils Wednesday night that made their hold on the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference even more tentative.
Early on, New Jersey’s famed neutral zone trap bottled up the Canes attack, holding Carolina to just 11 shots on goal and a handful of quality scoring chances during the first 40 minutes of the game.
Ilya Kovalchuk of the Devils made a pretty move to break the scoreless tie 5:41 into the second period when he curled down the left wing past defenseman Joe Corvo and then used Corvo as a screen to put his shot past goalie Cam Ward.
“You give him room and he is going to make you look stupid,” Carolina’s Sergei Samsonov said of Kovalchuk. “He’s been doing it his whole career.”
Eric Staal had the Canes best chance to tie the score in the closing seconds of the middle period but he shot the puck wide with an open shot from the slot which allowed the Devils to maintain their 1-0 lead after two periods.
New Jersey took control of the game early in the third with Brian Rolston and Patrik Elias scoring in the first two minutes of the stanza.
Much to their credit, Carolina didn’t quit. Forced to take chances, they opened up their play and managed 16 shots against Devils starter Johan Hedberg in the final 20 minutes.
Samsonov got the Hurricanes back in the game when he tapped home a centering pass from Jiri Tlusty at the 8:17 mark.
Carolina’s best chance to close the gap further came shortly after Samsonov’s goal when Colin White and Mark Fraser were called for back-to-back penalties, but the Canes failed to score on the first power play despite getting some good pressure on Hedberg, and then had the second man-advantage cut short when rookie Jeff Skinner was called for hooking in the offensive zone.
Tuomo Ruutu managed to score with just 2.8seconds left in the game to pull the Hurricanes within one goal, but there was not enough time left to complete the comeback.
Ruutu was less than pleased with his club’s effort over the course of the contest. “It was a lack of emotion,” Ruutu said. “I thought we only played the last 10 minutes, after we scored that first goal. These are big games. For the first two and half periods we were just trying to get through the game and you’re not going to win that way.”
The loss leaves the Canes two points ahead of the Sabres in the standings although Buffalo has two games in hand.
Carolina returns to action Friday night when they host the conference leading Philadelphia Flyers.
About the Author
Written by Brad Kurtzberg
Hockey writer for more than 10 years. Has been published on Fox Sports, MSG Network, Huffington Post and Inside Hockey. Wrote the book, "Shorthanded: The Untold Story of the Seals, Hockey's Most Colorful Team" on the old California Golden Seals and is presently working on his second book.