RALEIGH — If it was the Carolina Hurricanes first real pressure game of the season, and it certainly felt that way Saturday given the urgency, they didnt handle it very well.
Leading the Florida Panthers by two goals with barely six minutes left in regulation, the Canes first lost their lead, then the game 3-2 in a shootout at the RBC Center.
Yes, another shootout. The Hurricanes have not won one of those all season and now are 0-6.
Its tough to lose like that, Canes goalie Justin Peters said. They fought hard, but that one stings. That one really does sting."
Obviously that was a big game for us in the standings. Its unfortunate we werent able to hold on.
The Hurricanes went into the game against their Southeast Division rival trailing the Panthers, who were sitting in eighth place in the NHLs Eastern Conference, by eight points. By winning, Florida moved back into first place in the division.
The Canes (23-26-13) took a 2-0 lead into the third period as defenseman Justin Faulk scored a power-play goal late in the first period and Jussi Jokinen added an even-strength score late in the second. Carolina was 16-1-4 this season when leading after two periods and 14-1-2 when taking a 2-0 lead in a game.
But those numbers meant little to the Panthers (28-20-12), who were winless in their past four games but responded with a strong road game and outshot the Canes 44-28.
Tomas Fleischmanns goal with 6:02 left in regulation trimmed the lead to 2-1, and Florida then tied it on forward Wojtek Wolskis goal with 1:47 remaining -- Wolski putting a no-look shot on goal that Peters couldnt stop.
Unfortunately it hit a skate, Peters said. It was going low blocker and ended up five-hole. An unfortunate bounce.
Talk about a timely goal. Wolski was traded to the Panthers on Saturday from the New York Rangers and arrived at the RBC Center less than two hours before game time.
Eric Staal nearly won it for the Canes in the overtime, only to have Panthers goalie Jose Theodore make the stop on a shot in front of the crease. A scuffle soon ensued, putting Staal and the Panthers Erik Gudbranson in the penalty box and resulting in three-on-three play.
Soon it was on to the shootout and both teams were coming off shootout losses Thursday -- the Canes to the Anaheim Ducks and the Panthers to the Minnesota Wild. Carolina coach Kirk Muller, looking for something to change his teams luck, elected to go first in the shootout and sent out Jokinen, Jeff Skinner and Jiri Tlusty.
Jokinen was high with his shot, and Mikael Samuelsson scored for the Panthers. Skinner countered by scoring, and Peters stopped Wolski. But Tlusty couldnt get a shot on net and Stephen Weiss beat Peters for the winner.
We just couldnt hold on, said Peters, who made 42 saves in his third straight start. Gosh, I need to make that last save for the boys in the shootout.
The Hurricanes and Panthers will play three more times this season and the Panthers have yet to lose to Carolina. But this one will set in the Canes craws for a while.
Up by two, theres no reason we should give up two goals and sit back like we did, Canes forward Brandon Sutter said. For whatever reason we were on our heels the last period and werent quite sharp enough.
(Peters) gave us a chance to win tonight. You cant give up that many shots but at the same time thats a good team. And it comes down to a shootout, which were having a tough time with and tough time scoring.
Faulk scored his seventh goal of the season on the power play as Staal extended his point streak to eight games. Jokinen then made it 2-0 after Skinner worked hard behind the net, setting up Jokinen in front with a sharp centering pass.
Early in the third period, the Panthers were on the power play only to have Staal streak down ice on a breakaway. That forced Theodore, who had 26 saves, to stop two shorthanded tries by Staal.
But the Panthers kept pushing, kept fighting.
Having the lead and then losing it with under two minutes, thats tough, Canes defenseman Bryan Allen said. Its a big game that we needed to win. Its hard to take.