RALEIGH — The last time the Carolina Hurricanes played the Washington Capitals, a late goal forced overtime and secured a point for the Hurricanes. Friday, they never gave themselves that chance. They never came close.
The Hurricanes might not have the firepower to battle the Washington Capitals for the division title on paper, but they still play the Capitals six times. These are big games within the division, and losses like Friday's are particularly damaging. Down a goal going into the third, they gave up three third-period goals in a 5-1 collapse.
"They're a good team, and they play better defensively than they get credit for, but we weren't good enough to win the game tonight, was the bottom line," said Hurricanes coach Paul Maurice, who dropped a "horse(bleep)" on live TV during his postgame news conference.
Jeff Skinner had a goal disallowed that would have tied the score 2-2 when referee Kyle Rehman lost sight of the puck while it was still loose in the crease and blew his whistle. That mistake was a killer, but it didn't cost the Hurricanes the game.
They were flat outplayed after that and never came close to closing the gap. The gap between the Capitals and Hurricanes in the Southeast Division, meanwhile, got a little larger.
It was a dismal conclusion to a big week within the division for the Hurricanes. They beat the Tampa Bay Lightning 4-2 on Tuesday in a solid all-around performance, but they brought none of that to the ice Friday.
"It's very frustrating, because you think you're right in the mix of things after we win that game," Hurricanes defenseman Bryan Allen said. "It's a big two points we gave away tonight."
It once again looks like a three-team race for the Southeast title with Washington and Tampa Bay - the Florida Panthers and Winnipeg Jets have combined for two playoff appearances in 12 years - and the Hurricanes might not be favored, but they aren't out of it either. It'll take wins in games like this, though, whether the goal is the division title or just making the playoffs.
If any team in the NHL knows how much these points can matter, it's this one. Since moving to North Carolina, the Hurricanes have missed the playoffs by four or fewer points four times (and made it by four or less three times). That margin is as thin as it is painful.
Four points. Two wins. A few decent third periods to force overtime.
It isn't much. It's a small percentage of the 90 or so points the Hurricanes typically collect in a season.
Nights like this can end up making that kind of difference in the end.
Twelve of the previous 13 games between the Capitals and Canes were decided by one goal, but Carolina hasn't won in regulation in any of the past eight.
"For the most part we feel like we play well against them, but for some reason we're having a tough time against them in our own building," Hurricanes center Brandon Sutter said. "We play them four more times. It's a long year."
The Hurricanes won't see a Southeast Division opponent for three weeks, and they won't see the Capitals or Lightning again until the end of December. After that point in the season, it's difficult to make anything but incremental movement in the standings.
This month is the time to make a move. The Hurricanes set a tone Tuesday they couldn't carry through to Friday.