RALEIGH — The Carolina Hurricanes had been winning on home ice and wanted a three-game sweep this week at PNC Arena to finish things off before the break for the Olympics.
Then, Paul Maurice showed up with the Winnipeg Jets.
The Jets, getting a late goal from forward Chris Thorburn, pulled out a 2-1 victory to make Maurice’s return to PNC Arena a memorable one.
Maurice twice served as the Hurricanes’ coach and is the winningest coach in franchise history. He also was twice fired by the Canes, the second time in November 2011.
But Maurice is back in the NHL, being named interim coach of the Jets on Jan. 12 when Claude Noel was fired. The Jets, with new structure and new energy, are 9-2 after Tuesday’s win.
It was a frustrating loss for the Canes (25-21-9), who controlled the flow of the game much of the second and third periods. It had a bitter ending for Canes captain Eric Staal, who was crosschecked and knocked to the ice by the Jets’ Bryan Little after a faceoff.
Little was called for the penalty with 33 seconds left in regulation but Staal was called for slashing – the Canes’ only penalty of the game – as both players were sent to the penalty box.
“It was a bad call,” Staal said. “I’m pretty sure if you watch the replay I won the faceoff and got hit from behind. That’s pretty much it.
“That’s one play in the game. It’s a frustrating end (to) it. Other than that, it was a good effort. We had a lot of chances, especially in the second. It just stings right now to give up points.”
The Canes, who had won their past three games at PNC Arena, had 51 seconds of a 5-on-3 power play in the second period after Andrew Ladd’s goal had given the Jets a 1-0 lead. Canes defenseman John-Michael Liles had a shot glance off the post but the Jets (28-25-5), who have not allowed a 5-on-3 score this season, killed off the penalties.
Riley Nash’s goal early in the third tied the score for the Canes. Forward Drayson Bowman lost the puck as he was about to shoot from the slot, but Nash ripped a shot past Jets goalie Ondrej Pavelec.
The teams, once rivals in the old Southeast Division, appeared headed to overtime in the final minutes. But the Jets kept possession in the Canes zone and rookie defenseman Jacob Trouba circled the net for a wraparound, the puck sliding to an open Thorburn in front with 63 seconds left in regulation.
Goalie Anton Khudobin, who again played well for the Canes, had no chance to stop Thorburn, whose goal was his second of the season.
“It was a good hockey game,” Canes coach Kirk Muller said. “Both teams played well. We did everything we tried to do, as far as the game plan.
“We didn’t give up much but two mistakes cost us two goals. But overall I thought our guys played hard and competed and did some good things.”
About 13 minutes into the second period, Canes defenseman Justin Faulk tried to step up on Jets forward Michael Frolik at center ice. But Frolik chipped the puck off the boards and past Faulk, gathered it in with speed and got off a shot from the left wing.
Khudobin made the stop, but with the Canes’ Nathan Gerbe and Andrej Sekera both shading toward Frolik, Ladd was unchecked in scoring off the rebound.
The Canes have two games left before the NHL break for the 2014 Winter Olympics – against Florida and Montreal in a back-to-back set at home. It’s four points the Canes need to keep pace in the Metropolitan Division.
“They’re huge,” Nash said. “Every day you kook at the standings and teams are moving up a couple of spots. We know the importance of these games. That’s why this one hurts a little more than usual.”
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