Lightning spoil Canes' home opener, win 4-1

calexander@newsobserver.comJanuary 23, 2013 

  • Keys to the game 1. Early and far too often: For the second straight game, defensive errors led to a disastrous start. The Hurricanes have been outscored 6-0 in the two first periods they have played. 2. Here comes Skinner: After a poor performance in the opener, Jeff Skinner bounced back with a better game Tuesday, scoring the Hurricanes’ only goal as part of a potentially potent power-play package that includes both Staal brothers, Alexander Semin and Joni Pitkanen. 3. The brighter side: The Hurricanes had more scoring chances than the opposition in both games and were undone largely by errors of their own making. Their issues are correctable – but they need to be corrected quickly. – Luke DeCock

— The Carolina Hurricanes came away from Tuesday’s home opener believing they played harder, smarter, tougher and better than they did in the season opener.

All that might be true, but it wasn’t enough to keep them from losing again.

The Tampa Bay Lightning, which is becoming accustomed to spoiling big moments for the Canes at PNC Arena, came away with a 4-1 victory that wasn’t overly decisive but solid enough.

Tom Pyatt and Cory Conacher scored first-period goals and Keith Aulie and Ryan Malone scored during the third for Tampa Bay. With Mathieu Garon stopping 35 shots in his first start of the season, the Lightning pushed its record to 2-1 and left the Canes again looking for answers.

“You never want to lose two straight, but we’ve got a lot of hockey left,” Canes captain Eric Staal said. “We’ll regroup, refocus and get better.”

Jeff Skinner scored his first goal of the season, elevating a nifty backhander on the power play, and the Canes had other good scoring chances. Jordan Staal, making his first home appearance with the Hurricanes, was a bull in front of the Tampa Bay net and Alexander Semin had six shots in his PNC Arena debut for Carolina.

But with 6 minutes, 40 seconds left in regulation, there was Canes captain Eric Staal dropping the gloves and ready to fight Tampa Bay’s Adam Hall. Staal was standing up for his team, showing leadership but also frustration from the 0-2 start to a season so many believe can be promising.

After the 5-1 loss Saturday to the Florida Panthers in the opener, followed by Tuesday’s loss, and with a game Thursday against the Buffalo Sabres up next, the Canes definitely are dealing with some anxiety.

“There’s got to be a little desperation out of us,” Skinner said.

Coach Kirk Muller first said his team played better, then quickly added, “But we’re 0-2 in a shortened season.”

“I thought there were a lot of good things in certain areas but the bottom line is we have to be a tougher team to play against and stronger around the net and tougher to defend,” Muller said.

The Lightning’s two first-period goals came on plays in front of goalie Cam Ward. Pyatt swatted the puck past Ward after a centering pass from Vincent Lecavalier and Conacher hammered in a rebound of a Lecavalier shot.

“We came out with energy and the building was alive,” said Canes defenseman Bobby Sanguinetti, who was paired with Joni Pitkanen and on the ice for both first-period goals. “I’ve got to be stronger in front of the net. There’s no excuse now. The season’s started and it’s time for me to wake up. It was a tough one for myself, personally.”

Skinner’s goal had the standing-room-only crowd roaring and came after Malone was called for boarding Eric Staal on a hit from behind. Jordan Staal, who kept the puck alive in front of Garon, and Semin both earned their first points as Hurricanes with assists.

The Canes trailed 2-1 entering the third and were aware that Tampa Bay was playing a day after a 4-3 road loss to the New York Islanders. But Aulie’s goal, the third of the defenseman’s NHL career, early in the third stung the Canes, and Malone’s goal came on a power play midway through the final period.

The Lightning, which smacked the Canes 5-1 in last season’s opener, had quieted PNC Arena again and done it without big games from Steven Stamkos or Martin St. Louis.

“It’s early in the year and everyone knows it’s a short season and all these points are crucial,” Skinner said. “But we’ve got to stick with it and not panic and change our game, because I think five-on-five we keep getting better. If we keep putting that many pucks on net and get those quality scoring chances, things will go well for us.”

Alexander: 919-829-8945

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