Goaltender Dan Ellis finished the game with 40 saves while opposing netminder Jacob Markstrom turned away 33 Carolina shots in a game that only really mattered for the final 12 minutes of play.
That is the span of time it took the Panthers to outscore the Hurricanes with the help of two power play opportunities and an empty-net goal after both teams had battled to a scoreless tie through two periods of play.
“They outworked us,” Ellis said.
“That’s all it comes down to. They don’t have any superstars, they’re all injured. They come out, stick to a game plan, they execute, and they work. That’s what beat us.”
Even though they regained first place in their division after losing in a 2-1 shootout to the New York Rangers the night before, the Hurricanes lost that lead once again against Florida.
Though they didn’t lack energy or work ethic during the first 40 minutes of play, it was the inability of Carolina’s scorers to finish their plays while trying to beat Markstrom, a goalie who had only one victory to date, that was the major obstacle to winning the game.
For the first two periods, both teams traded rushes and scoring opportunities into both ends of the ice and were playing a pretty entertaining and impressive game.
“I thought our effort and our compete was there,” captain Eric Staal said.
“We looked a little worn down, but we were staying with our structure and our system - zero-zero game going into the third period - then some mental mistakes and it ends up in the back of your net.”
Though outshooting their opposition for most of the season, the Hurricanes have recently become the hunted, being outshot during their past four games and losing all of them.
They have hit a stretch of not scoring for two consecutive periods for one reason or another in each game they have played recently.
Against Washington, they went scoreless during the second and third periods, while against the Lightning, they went dry during the first and second stanzas.
Repeat the exact cycle against the Rangers and Panthers, and the troublesome pattern that has emerged comes into clear focus.
“For me personally, I had some pretty good looks, that for the most part have been going in for me this year,” Staal said.
“For tonight, for some reason, it didn’t want to fall. I think we gotta’ get more guys hungry in front of the net and be aggressive. We’ll regroup and look forward to Thursday.”
It’s all mental
According to Carolina head coach Kirk Muller, he believes his team has hit a psychological block of some kind, a lack of confidence, particularly on the power play.
Against the Panthers, save for the team’s lone goal by Jordan Staal with 2:33 remaining in the third period that was counted as a goal with the man-advantage, the Hurricanes’ power play couldn't produce enough again.
“I think it’s mental,” Muller said.
“I think our work ethic on five-on-five is great. We have the skill level and I think the power play should work. A lot of the guys were here last year and executed and I think now , we’ve tried different players in different positions and everything, but I think at the end of the day, you got to just – I know it’s hard to imagine – you just got to let it ride out. You just got to let them sort things out and get one goal and their confidence level will grow on it and it will just come natural again. They’re pressing. They’re too predictable, but I think they are trying to make it work out.”
To add to Carolina’s problems and concerns, three defenseman were injured throughout the game and had an impact on the team’s deteriorating play.
Defenseman Justin Faulk left the game after getting hit by Panthers forward Jack Skillie at the 11:20 mark of the second period, and never returned as the result of a suffering a lower body injury.
“We’re not going to make any excuses, but when we lost Faulk it made it really hard on our D going into the third,” Muller said.
“We’re going to evaluate him tonight and get him checked out tonight or tomorrow.”
Keeping them in stitches
During the first period, Sanguinetti got tangled up with the winger in the Panthers’ corner playing for the puck, and as both players fell to the ice, Upshall’s skate inadvertently caught the Hurricanes defensemen above the lip.
After leaving the ice for a time, Sanguinetti returned to the game with 13 stitches to show from the pileup.
Regarding Gleason’s injury, which occurred midway through the second period, a more blatant disregard for keeping his stick under control resulted in Upshall cutting Gleason’s forehead after the two tangled in the Carolina zone.
After skating off the ice on his own with blood dripping from his head, Gleason came back into the game later on sporting 16 stitches and a visor.
The final verdict
While Ellis put forth a first-star- caliber performance in net for 47 minutes, while the defensive corps were bleeding, bruising and barely able to walk, and while the third and fourth lines put in valuable minutes to give the team’s scorers enough time to recover and do what they do best, they didn’t do what was expected of them.
“I thought we worked hard tonight,” Muller said.
“I mean it was 0-0 going into a back-to-back game. There were two five-on-threes. Give them credit – they capitalized on it. But as far as going right down to the end, I don’t think anyone quit. The guys went hard. We just didn’t get the result that we wanted tonight.”
With that said, no one is critical of this team for not working hard or coming close, but the only way that they make the playoffs is to outscore the other team and win.
That responsibility rests soley with those who have the talent, ability and contracts in place to specifically accomplish the task of putting the puck in the net.
Otherwise, this team risks not making the playoffs for yet another season after making impressive and significant offseason moves to avoid doing so.