Following a 3-2 loss to the Washington Capitals at home on Thursday, in which they were shut out during the final two periods of play, the Hurricanes were unable to score during the first two periods of play while being outscored 3-0.
The Lightning pulled ahead further to post a four-goal lead before captain Eric Staal scored the Hurricanes’ lone goal of the game which ended the team’s scoring drought of 98 minutes and 14 seconds.
“Well, we thought we were playin’ a pretty good game to be honest,” Staal said afterwards.
“Went into the third period obviously down three, but we still felt like we were there to get one and you can never know what can happen. Obviously they got the fourth before we could get that one, but I thought we competed very hard. There’s areas we can tighten up a little better, but the work ethic and the compete was there which is what you want.”
With the loss, the Hurricanes were finally knocked out of first place in the NHL's Southeast division as the Winnipeg Jets took that spot with a 5-4 shootout win over Toronto.
However, Carolina still retained a finger grip on eighth place in the Eastern conference for the remainder of the night, so even though their current two-game slide may be alarming, the Hurricanes are focusing on playing consistently and hoping that their hard work will pay off, as it has for most of the season.
“No, not all,” Hurricanes head coach Kirk Muller stated regarding whether he was disappointed in his team’s effort against the Lightning.
“I thought we played hard. You know what? I thought competition was high – we knew it was going to be a battle. We didn’t get that first goal tonight, but sometimes you’ve gotta’ give the other team credit - they played a good game - but it just wasn’t our night.”
With 21 games remaining in the regular season, Carolina holds a game in-hand on the Jets while trailing them by a point, and must get a win against the New York Rangers on Monday.
A victory in Gotham City will allow Carolina to hold onto the final spot in the conference standings for all but a short period of time, but push the Rangers a little further behind as one less threat in conference play.
In fact, the next two weeks could be the most pivotal for the Hurricanes to hang onto a playoff spot, as they must stay ahead of the sharks in the water that smell blood as a result of the team’s two losses and lack of scoring output at even strength and on the power play.
Even while sitting in the basement of the division and conference standings, the Florida Panthers can really slow down Carolina’s progress before facing the New Jersey Devils, Toronto Maple Leafs, and the Jets twice, who all currently sit within a point’s reach either way in the standings.
“We’re gonna’ have to rebound,” Staal concluded.
“We’ve got a big game Monday in New York, so we’re gonna’ have to go back to work tomorrow in practice and be ready to go for a huge game in New York.”
Huge is probably understating the situation.