As far as tough losses go, the Canes have had a few doozies this season.
Saturday’s come-from-ahead loss to Atlanta, who scored four goals in the third period to erase a 3-1 deficit, ranks right up there. Other notables are the Vancouver game in which Alex Burrows scored shorthanded in the final minute to deny the Canes a point, as well when Alexander Semin netted two in the last few minutes in Washington back in November.
However, given the magnified importance of every game at the moment, Saturday’s contest may sting the most.
”That will be as tough of one as I think this group has faced,” said Hurricanes Coach Paul Maurice. “It’s not the loss most times, it’s how you lose the game, and to be in control at that point in the game – that should have been a done deal for us.”
The Canes had some success after those first two defeats, winning against Ottawa and San Jose in the following days. This time, following an up-tempo Monday practice, they visit a very strong Washington team who is coming off of a big loss of their own – a 6-2 defeat at the hands of the Florida Panthers, which did the Canes no favors in the standings.
As Atlanta’s surge in the third period of a (for them) meaningless game against the Canes and Washington’s slump against Florida show, weird things happen this time of year with teams at opposite ends of the standings.
“That’s the National Hockey League,” said Maurice. “The teams at the very top end, you can’t count on them dominating because they’re just waiting for the second season to start. The teams at the bottom end have already mourned the death of their season, and now they’re back playing for fun and there’s absolutely no defensive pressure.
“When Atlanta is down 3-1, they don’t care if it’s 7-1. They’re going to go out and see if they can wind ‘er up, and they did.”
Tuesday’s game in Washington will be the Canes’ first trip to D.C. since the aforementioned loss on November 6. It will only be the fourth meeting of the season between the divisional rivals, and first since the Canes posted a 3-1 win on December 7, Maurice’s third game as coach this season. The Canes face Washington three times in March.
Of concern for the Canes, besides the obvious threat of Semin, a famous Canes-killer, and Alexander Ovechkin, a famous everyone-killer, is Washington’s power play. The Capitals have nine man-advantage goals in their last five games at a conversion rate of 36 percent.
Other than a weak effort on Rich Peverly’s game-winner against the Thrashers, the Canes penalty kill has arguably been their best area in the last month or so, with only two power play goals allowed in their last five games. Look for that, along with goaltending (a vulnerable area for Washington lately), to be a major key to the game.