Analysis from Tampa Bay
→ The Carolina Hurricanes fell to the Tampa Bay Lightning by a score of 3-1, which closes the book on the 2016 calendar year. Jonathan Drouin scored the game-winning goal, one of two power-play goals the Lightning scored, while Sebastian Aho tallied for the Canes.
"When you're playing back-to-back and you come out on the road, you're going to build a game. Everyone knows that, especially when the other team is fresh," head coach Bill Peters said. "It would have been nice to have the opportunity to build a game a little bit more 5-on-5."
→ While the Hurricanes dispatched the Chicago Blackhawks, 3-2, in Raleigh on Friday night, the Tampa Bay Lightning were resting and waiting. It took the Hurricanes a bit to get going tonight, and once they found their legs and their game - or at least, began to - they were already in a hole.
The Lightning, who came into tonight's game with the league's third-best power play, took advantage of two man advantage opportunities in the first period to take a 2-0 lead into the first intermission. It was the first time in 36 games this season that the Hurricanes' league-best penalty killing unit surrendered more than one goal in a game.
"It didn't help to start off with a couple quick penalties and a couple power play goals," Jordan Staal said. "When you're playing 3-in-4 and you start off with a 2-0 deficit, it's not easy to come back."
Brian Boyle cashed in a rebound to give his team the 1-0 lead about seven-and-a-half minutes into the first period. Later, a questionable hooking penalty - especially considering what has and hasn't been called in the last couple of games - gave the Lightning the 5-on-3 advantage. As Lee Stempniak was exiting the box after serving a bench minor for too many men on the ice, Jonathan Drouin's shot made it a 2-0 game with just 10 seconds to play in the first period.
"Give them credit. They shot pucks and had good puck movement. They did some good things," Peters said. "Unfortunately we didn't kill the penalties assessed and found ourselves behind the eight ball."
Tampa Bay stretched its lead to three goals when Alex Killorn snuck a backhander past Ward in the latter half of the second period.
→ The Hurricanes got on the board just three minutes after Killorn's goal, as Sebastian Aho was sprung on a breakaway by Jaccob Slavin. Aho slid the puck five-hole on Andrei Vasilevskiy to extend his point streak to three games (1g, 2a).
"We needed a push from the team. We knew from that first period there wasn't much of anything really to hang your hat on," Staal said. "We wanted to come into the second and show our identity that we want to build on. I thought we did a better job of creating chances."
While the Lightning cashed in on their power play opportunities, the Hurricanes had chances of their own, but they were 0-for-4 on the night.
"We didn't get it done on special teams, not only on the penalty kill, but the power play needed to be better here tonight," Peters said.
→ Eddie Lack, who was slated to back up Cam Ward tonight, fell ill this afternoon. With just hours until puck drop, the Hurricanes turned to their longtime equipment man, Jorge Alves, to fill in as an emergency back-up, the feel-good story that we've all desired to write about for years.
"A lot of them, I thought, were happier than I was because they all came in and gave me high-fives and stuff," Alves said of his teammates. "They were really excited for me, which meant a lot to me. It was an amazing experience."
"I think it was a special night. It was a night he'll never forget," Peters said. "It was the perfect storm of opportunity for him, and it couldn't happen to a better guy."
"It was obviously a big day for him. He's worked hard for us. He's been out in practice a lot taking a lot of high heat from us," Staal said. "He deserved a day like that, and we're all very happy for him."
Alves, who practices as a third goaltender with the team on a regular basis, signed a professional tryout contract this evening. He led the Canes out on the ice for pregame warm-ups, the team staying back in the tunnel while Alves took a lap alone.
During the game, Alves continued his duties as equipment manager, sharpening skates and taping sticks when needed.
With 7.6 seconds remaining and the game all but decided, Alves got his time in the crease.
"I just remember looking down the ice and seeing the puck in the corner and saying, stay in that corner," Alves said. "It was amazing. It's still pretty emotional for me. It was amazing."
"If he would have had to, he would have made a save," Peters said. "The opportunity arose to get him in, and I thought it was the right thing to do."
→ The Hurricanes are back in action in the New Year on Tuesday at PNC Arena, as they host the New Jersey Devils and look to extend their 11-game home point streak (10-0-1).
"It's a vibe in the room right now," Staal said. "Obviously tonight wasn't what we wanted, but we're going to continue to build the team we want to be."