Hurricanes’ winless streak at five games after 5-2 loss to Maple Leafs

calexander@newsobserver.comDecember 29, 2013 

— The Carolina Hurricanes’ winless streak now has reached five games and the losses are beginning to quickly mount.

The Toronto Maple Leafs, gearing up for their appearance New Year’s Day in the 2014 Winter Classic, stopped the Canes 5-2 Sunday at Air Canada Centre as Phil Kessel had a pair of goals and goalie Jonathan Bernier was sharp in net.

Kessel, who had chances for a hat trick, now has 20 goals for the season. Nikolai Kulemin, Paul Ranger and Dion Phaneuf also scored for the Leafs, who face the Detroit Red Wiongs in the Winter Classic.

The Canes (14-16-9) now have dropped eight of the past nine games and are falling further behind in the NHL’s Metropolitan Division. Nathan Gerbe and Justin Faulk had goals for the Canes, who trailed 1-0 after the first period despite some strong play and then fell behind 3-1 in the second.

Gerbe’s goal tied the score 1-1 early in the second, and Faulk’s power-play goal with less than three minutes to play in the second period pulled Carolina within 3-2.

But Ranger scored on an open shot from the high slot in the third after the Canes’ Jeff Skinner fell and tried to clear the puck from the zone.

Phaneuf’s goal was an empty netter at the end.

The Canes rallied for three goals in the third in their first visit to Toronto this season, winning 3-2, but there would be no repeat.

“We fell behind and it’s tough to climb back,” Gerbe said. “I thought when it comes to shots and chances it’s there, but we’ve got to work on putting them in.”

Bernier earned some redemption Sunday for the Leafs (20-16-5). In the Oct. 17 game, Bernier misplayed the puck as it came off the end boards, allowing what would be the winning goal by the Canes’ Ron Hainsey.

“I thought we had a pretty darn good game,” Canes coach Kirk Muller said. “We had 40-some shots on net. We had two-on-ones, three-on-twos. We had our opportunities. It didn’t happen.

“They’re known as an opportunistic team. They had a couple of chances and they capitalized. ... There are a lot of good things in our game but we don’t get the results at the end.”

Cam Ward was in net Sunday for the Canes, making only his second start since Dec. 10 as Justin Peters had started five of the past six games.

Canes captain Eric Staal also played his 729th career game, tying him with former defenseman Glen Wesley for most games played as a Hurricane.

Kessel had the only first-period score, on a tight-angle backhander. After Gerbe tied it in the second, Kessel and Kulemin scored goals 76 seconds apart.

The Canes picked up a 4-on-3 power-play score with 2:48 left in the second on Faulk’s blast from the point.

Gerbe ripped a shot from the left wing for his ninth of the season off an Alex Semin pass. Faulk’s goal came after Semin and Ranger picked up penalties -- Ranger for crosschecking Semin and Semin for retaliating with a shove -- and Phaneuf then was called for hooking.

Kessel’s second goal came off a pass from James van Riemsdyk. Kulemin took advantage of a Skinner turnover to get an open shot in the slot.

“That’s a team that does that well,” Canes center Jordan Staal said.

The Canes played a strong first period, moving the puck briskly, outskating and and outshooting the Leafs. And trailed 1-0.

“I thought we came out well,” Gerbe said.”

After Tyler Bozak controlled a faceoff in the Canes’ zone, Kessel scored on the backhander with 3:04 left in the first. Toronto did not have a shot on goal in the game until Joffrey Lupul’s shot at 11:29 of the first during a power play.

Kessel then had a chance to make it a 2-0 lead a half-minute after his score, but Ward stopped the Leafs star on a breakaway.

Bozak rejoined the Leafs’ lineup Sunday after missing 12 games with a strained oblique muscle.

The Leafs’ past four games had gone to shootouts. Toronto split the four, beating the Buffalo Sabres 4-3 on Friday.

No shootout was needed Sunday.

Alexander: 919-829-8945; Twitter: @ice_chip

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