The Carolina Hurricanes seemed to have everything going for them heading into tonight’s re-match with the Tampa Bay Lightning. They had won three straight and the Lightning was winless in their last four contests. Defenseman Jamie McBain was returning to the lineup and the Hurricanes were back home after a big road win in Tampa Friday night.
Things quickly got better for the Hurricanes seven minutes into the game when Eric Staal scored a power play goal on a wrist shot from the right circle to give Carolina a 1-0 lead.
But instead of cruising to a victory, the Hurricanes watched their old nemesis, Simon Gagner, lead a Lightning comeback which resulted in a 4-2 loss for Carolina. Gagner now has six goals in five games this season against the Hurricanes.
The loss, combined with the Buffalo Sabres win over the New Jersey Devils places the Canes five points behind the Sabres in the race for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference with just seven games to go.
“Now we’re going to need help,” Hurricanes Coach Paul Maurice admitted. “We’re going to have to come pretty close to running the table from here on out.”
If the Sabres play .500 hockey the rest of the season, the Hurricanes would need to go 6-1-0 in their final seven games just to match their season point total.
Martin St. Louis started the Tampa Bay comeback, scoring just seconds after a Carolina power play expired. Vincent Lecavalier led an odd-man rush and set up St. Louis for the game-tying goal.
Gagne gave Tampa Bay the lead on an unassisted goal which saw him steal the puck from Joe Corvo and rushed in to beat Cam Ward with a hard shot that made it 2-1 Bolts.
To their credit, the Hurricanes did not quit. Corey Stillman found Erik Cole in front of the net and Cole poked the puck past Mike Smith to tie the game at 2-2 in the final minute of the opening period.
The second period was a tight, physical and fairly even battle, but the only goal came with just 2:07 left and it proved to be the game-winner. Dominic Moore scored on the power play off a pretty pass from Lecavalier to net his 15th goal of the year.
The Hurricanes fired 13 shots on Smith in the third period, but the Tampa Bay goalie held his ground and maintained the one-goal lead until Gagne’s empty-netter clinched it with less than a minute left in the game.
The desperate Canes return to action Tuesday night when they travel to Washington to meet the Capitals.
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.