RALEIGH — RALEIGH -- The afterglow and momentum from a big win in Buffalo didn't last long for the Carolina Hurricanes.
Less than 24 hours, in fact.
A night after shutting out the Sabres, the Hurricanes returned to the RBC Center on Wednesday to stumble. The Toronto Maple Leafs, fueled by a pair of Dion Phaneuf power-play goals and sharp play in net by rookie James Reimer, grabbed a 3-1 victory.
"We had a big win and it's kind of a sour feeling because it was pretty much for nothing at this point," Canes defenseman Tim Gleason said. "It was a big game. If we win that, we kind of have some breathing room."
The Hurricanes, with a win, would have tied the eighth-place Sabres in the NHL's Eastern Conference with 76 points. Instead, the Leafs (31-30-10) moved up and have 72 points.
Gleason, one the Canes' alternate captains, was asked what needed to be said to a team that has lost three straight at home, that's 1-4-1 in its past six games.
"We've got a young group here, but I personally said the time was about a month ago," he said. "I don't know if the message got through, or if it's in one ear and out the other, or if we're just hoping.
"You can't just hope to make the playoffs. We have to earn a spot. It should have started a month ago."
The Canes (32-29-10), looking to build on a 1-0 win against the Sabres, got the start they wanted, taking a 1-0 lead on a first-period power-play goal by Chad LaRose. Yes, a power-play goal, the first for Carolina in seven games.
But the Hurricanes couldn't score again. Reimer, shelled Monday by the Tampa Bay Lightning, had 36 saves. The Leafs also blocked 32 shots, seven by defenseman Carl Gunnarsson.
"We're frustrated now. We're offensively frustrated," Canes coach Paul Maurice said. "We had 84 (total) attempts ... which means we're on the right end of the ice.
"We've got a lot of pucks just sitting around that crease. We're just having a heck of a time banging 'em in. That gets frustrating and wears on your offensive guys, because they want to produce to help the team win."
Eric Staal, to name one. The Canes captain had nine shots but was held without a goal for the fifth straight game.
LaRose ended Carolina's power-play drought at 28 straight when he tipped in a Brandon Sutter shot at 12:24 of the first. But the Leafs trumped that with two power-play scores.
Phaneuf scored in the final minute of the first to tie the score 1-1. The defenseman ripped a shot from the point that hit goalie Cam Ward in the chest, the puck trickling over the goal line with 58.9 seconds left in the first.
"That was kind of a setback for us," Sutter said.
A bigger one was coming for the Canes in the second period. Phaneuf scored his second power-play goal on a shot from the right circle at 10:51 for a 2-1 lead, and the Leafs struck again 12 seconds later on Tyler Bozak's quick strike off a centering pass from Darryl Boyce.
That was deflating for the Canes, who now have dropped five straight in the second games of back-to-back sets.
"We got lackadaisical," Gleason said.
The Canes had two late power plays in the second and another early in the third. They had 15 shots in the final period.
Reimer allowed five goals on 29 shots and was lifted Monday in a 6-2 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning. But he was sharp enough against the Hurricanes, a team he blanked 3-0 on Feb. 3.
"Their goalie played well and stole the game for them," Sutter said. "I think tonight was one of the best defensive game we've played in a long time."
LaRose was part of a new power-play unit with forwards Brandon Sutter and Drayson Bowman that got a look in practice Monday but was not used against the Sabres.
But on the Canes' first power play Wednesday, LaRose, Sutter and Bowman went out first. Seeing good energy from that group, Maurice turned to it again with 8:17 left in the first and it clicked for a goal.
That would be the only offensive highlight for a team that has scored nine goals in the last six games.
"It was a tough loss for us but we can't put our heads down," LaRose said. "We've got a ways to go."
1. Dion Phaneuf, Toronto. Defenseman was two goals, assist.
2. James Reimer, Toronto. Another big game by goalie against Canes.
3. Chad LaRose, Carolina. Goal, lot of hustle from winger.
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