Special teams cost Hurricanes in 4-2 loss to NY Rangers

calexander@newsobserver.comMarch 7, 2014 

— The Carolina Hurricanes had not played a home game in almost a month.

But some things haven’t changed.

The Canes finally returned to PNC Arena on Friday, only to let a third-period lead slip through their grasp and take a 4-2 loss against the New York Rangers.

The Canes still are having problems winning on home ice. They can’t get anything out of the power play.

And recently, the Canes’ power plays have become better scoring opportunities for their opponents.

The Rangers got a 5-on-3 power-play goal from Derek Stepan and a shorthanded goal from Ryan McDonagh. The Canes, on the other hand, couldn’t score on a 5-on-3, misfired on all four power plays and allowed their fourth shorthanded tally in the past five games.

The Hurricanes (27-27-9) twice had the lead in the game as Jordan Staal scored late in the first period and Jeff Skinner on a penalty shot about 12 minutes into the third. But they couldn’t hold it against the Rangers (34-26-4), who now have won 10 straight against Carolina and six in a row at PNC Arena.

“It’s very frustrating,” Canes coach Kirk Muller said. “When you have the lead that late you have to be able to hold that off and win the hockey game.”

Following the NHL’s break for the 2014 Winter Olympics, the Canes played five straight road games. Their last home appearance was Feb. 8 against the Montreal Canadiens.

The Canes lost the first four games on the road swing before a 3-2 overtime win Tuesday against the San Jose Sharks. The power play was a constant problem – Carolina was 0-21 on the trip.

“You’ve got to execute,” Muller said. “We work on stuff and you’ve got to run the plays. If you start to get individual and want to make your own plays, it doesn’t work.

“You get outworked on it and you don’t execute and the result isn’t there. We didn’t get the job done.”

Skinner’s goal, his 24th of the season, pushed the Canes ahead 2-1 in the third. But the Rangers’ Rick Nash tied the score 2-2 with less than seven minutes remaining in regulation, beating Canes goalie Anton Khudobin with a shot from the right wing.

Canes defensemen Ron Hainsey and Brett Bellemore both flipped pucks over the glass for delay-of-game penalties, setting up the Rangers’ 5-on-3. Carolina had lost defenseman John-Michael Liles to an injury during the game, leaving it with three defensemen available for penalty killing.

Martin St. Louis, obtained in a trade Wednesday from Tampa Bay, found Stepan open to Khudobin’s right for the go-ahead score with 2:46 left in regulation. Carl Hagelin then sealed it with an empty netter in the final minute.

Staal, who scored his first goal in 11 games, and Skinner both beat Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist to the glove side. But that’s all Lundqvist gave up in a 22-save night.

Khudobin had 40 saves for the Canes, who took a 1-0 lead into the third and had a 15-1-3 record this season when leading after two periods. But McDonagh’s shorthanded goal tied the score and turned the momentum.

The Canes had 43 seconds of a 5-on-3 power play early in the second period but managed one shot. Asked about the power-play woes, Skinner sighed.

“When you get in a bad stretch you don’t have any confidence out there,” he said. “You try to make plays when you shouldn’t and throw it away when you can be making plays. It snowballs.

“We’re just not executing. We need to find a way to get through it. We’ve got to find a way to score.”

The Canes, who have a road game Saturday against New Jersey, now are nine points behind the third-place Rangers in the Metropolitan Division. They’re eight points behind the Detroit Red Wings, who hold the last wild-card playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.

“No one will feel sorry for us,” Muller said. “You’ve got to battle every night. It’s playoff mentality.”

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