RALEIGH — It was the kind of game that can put dark circles under a losing coach’s eyes.
The Carolina Hurricanes were beaten 5-3 Sunday by the Tampa Bay Lightning in a game in which they had a season-high 51 shots. The Canes got another strong game from resurgent Alexander Semin, got a goal and assist from captain Eric Staal, and kept pucks flying at Lightning goalie Ben Bishop for 60 minutes at PNC Arena.
But it’s hard to win a game when your top defensive pairing – Justin Faulk and Andrej Sekera – is struggling. It doesn’t help when a decision is made to start a goalie who hasn’t played since Dec. 27, then the players fail to give him enough support.
Justin Peters started in net for the Hurricanes, but after allowing three goals on seven shots, he was relieved by Anton Khudobin with about five minutes left in the first period.
Tampa Bay, leading 3-0 after the first, picked up a fourth goal early in the second. Semin and Staal then scored, but rookie Mark Barberio answered with his second goal of the game – and his NHL career – for a 5-2 lead.
“Nobody quit,” Canes coach Kirk Muller said. “We were down early, but after that there were a lot of things that were good about our game. Scoring opportunities, chances. Our big line really has come together and had a great game. It’s just unfortunate, the outcome, because there was a lot of good things.”
Semin scored twice Saturday as the Canes topped the Florida Panthers 3-2. His goal Sunday came on a second-period power play. The winger skated nearly the length of the ice and beat Bishop with a wicked top-shelf shot.
Staal, centering the top line with Semin and Jiri Tlusty, then scored on a shot from the right wing that beat Bishop short side. The Canes were within two goals and a comeback appeared to be brewing.
Not for long. Barberio, who scored his first goal on a first-period power play, winged a shot past Khudobin from the left circle as the Lightning (29-16-5) took a 5-2 lead.
“What we wanted to do was throw pucks at the net, attack,” Staal said. “We had a lot of chances and fought hard to get back into it, but it was a little bit too big of a hill to climb.”
Canes defenseman Ron Hainsey scored six minutes into the third and Carolina (20-19-9) had 17 shots in the final period, just as it did each of the first two. Bishop, his 6-foot-7 frame filling the net, made several timely saves.
“He’s a very big man and takes up a lot of the angles,” Canes defenseman Jay Harrison said.
It was the first time since March 29, 2006, when Carolina was beaten 5-1 by the Washington Capitals, that the Canes had 50 shots in a game and lost. The Hurricanes also had 28 shots that were blocked and missed the net on another 18 attempts.
Tampa Bay, winning for the ninth time in its past 10 games at PNC Arena, still is without injured star Steven Stamkos, who suffered a broken leg in November. Defenseman Victor Hedman also is out with a leg injury sustained Saturday in a 5-4 loss to San Jose.
Barberio got the Lightning on the board first, banging in a short shot on the power play after the Canes’ Sekera broke his stick. Ondrej Palat, who had a goal and two assists, scored off the rush on a Martin St. Louis pass and Nikita Kucherov made it 3-0 with five minutes left in the first.
Teddy Purcell’s goal 24 seconds into the second gave Tampa Bay, which had 24 shots in the game, a 4-0 cushion.
“We were on our heels from start to finish (but) we were opportunistic,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. “Our goaltender bailed us out. Not every game is going to be a Picasso. We will take it.”
Alexander: 919-829-8945; Twitter: @ice_chip