Gardiner's blast from the point puts Toronto up first, but Canes even things up on power play. The Hurricanes were riding a four-game win streak as they took on the Leafs, but it was Toronto who struck first Tuesday when blueliner Jake Gardiner took advantage of traffic in front of goalie Cam Ward and blasted a shot from the point into the net for his fourth goal of the season at 5:55 of the opening period.
However, after a holding penalty to Connor Carrick late in the first, Carolina evened the score on Jeff Skinner's eighth goal of the season with 2:39 remaining in the frame. The teams finished the first tied in shots on goal with 10 apiece, and both had a number of solid scoring chances that, in the minds of their respective coaches, meant they needed to tighten things up defensively for the rest of the contest.
Power play not so powerful for Leafs in second period. Toronto has as much speed as any NHL team, but the Hurricanes are no bale of turtles, and they used their swiftness and transition game to take advantage of a Leafs turnover on the power play and take a 2-1 lead on Viktor Stalberg's third goal of the season at 14:06 of the middle frame.
Stalberg's goal came on a breakaway that began when the Buds failed to penetrate Carolina's zone, but on the same power play, Toronto gave up a second shorthanded breakaway scoring opportunity that netminder Frederik Andersen thwarted to prevent the visitors from establishing a two-goal advantage. The Leafs were on their heels for much of the second, and there's little doubt head coach Mike Babcock wanted to see more success in puck battles and better decision-making in the third.
Carolina helps its cause with strong performance in faceoff circle. One of the reasons the Leafs had issues dictating the play Tuesday was due to the Hurricanes' success on faceoffs. Carolina won 11 of 13 draws in the first period - a number no team wants to be on the losing end of - and 21 of 40 at even-strength. The Canes also won 10 of 18 faceoffs in the offensive zone, a number that helped them keep the pressure on the home side.
The Canes were the NHL's third-best faceoff team entering the evening with a 53.2 win percentage, but the Buds had the league's ninth-best average in that department at 50.3 percent. Organizations can and do have off-nights, but Toronto's job is to ensure that doesn't happen with regularity.
Buds can't capitalize on late man advantage. Toronto still had difficulty dealing with Carolina's collapsing defence in front of Ward in the third period, but they did force the Hurricanes into taking a tripping minor with 5:39 left in regulation time. Unfortunately for Leafs Nation, the Buds weren't able to beat Ward for a second time and didn't score on any of their three power plays.
The loss was the Leafs' second in a row, but the positive news is they won't have any time to dwell on it, as they head out immediately to New Jersey to take on the Devils Wednesday night. But once again, special teams proved to be a difference-maker - just not in the way Toronto wanted them to.
Matthews a magnet for the puck, but doesn't get much puck luck. Buds centre Auston Matthews was a force to reckon with in Carolina's end throughout the game, but he hasn't been the recipient of much in the way of good luck from the Hockey Gods. He was also a danger on the forecheck, leading both teams with a game-high five takeaways.
The puck may not be bouncing his way right now, but Matthews is sufficiently talented and determined so as not to be distracted by this stretch. The rookie has a maturity beyond his years, and that will help him through