Canes lose at home to Islanders, 5-4, as playoff hopes fade

calexander@newsobserver.comMarch 25, 2014 

The Carolina Hurricanes have had slow starts and bad starts to games this season.

On Tuesday, they had their worst start.

Or as defenseman Jay Harrison called it, “unacceptable.”

The New York Islanders scored four times in the first 11 minutes of the game, then held off the Canes for a 5-4 victory at PNC Arena.

Cam Ward started in net for the Canes but lasted a little more than six minutes before being replaced by Anton Khudobin. The Isles had a 3-0 lead at that point, and pushed it to 4-0 after Khudobin took over.

Goals by Jeff Skinner and Andrei Loktionov pulled the Canes within 4-2 after the first, and Carolina twice got within a goal later in the game as Alexander Semin and Nathan Gerbe scored. But the Canes (31-32-9) took yet another regulation loss, were beaten again on home ice and remain nine points out of wild-card playoff position in the NHL’s Eastern Conference.

“It’s unexplainable, the effort we had,” Harrison said. “That’s not our game, not our preparation. We clearly were not ready to go. The accountability in the room … this can’t be tolerated. The effort and inspiration has to be better.”

Harrison noted the poor starts have been addressed. The Canes have had morning skates on the days of games, tried playing without morning skates. There have been team meetings.

In this case, the Canes were coming off a pair of hard-earned road wins over Columbus and Winnipeg sandwiched around a tough 3-2 loss to the Chicago Blackhawks. They were healthy and playing an Islanders team that’s missing captain John Tavares, who suffered a season-ending knee injury during the Winter Olympics, and had a number of rookies in the lineup.

But Colin McDonald scored for a 1-0 lead. Cal Clutterbuck scored before McDonald scored again, ending Ward’s night. Then, Matt Martin scored.

“You can’t come in and spot a team four goals in the first period and come back and win the hockey game,” Canes coach Kirk Muller said. “It’s a mystery why we come out so hesitant and afraid to play in the first period.”

The Isles (28-35-9), who had lost six straight to the Canes, had the first 10 shots. The Canes’ first shot on goal, by Eric Staal, came more than nine minutes into the game.

Skinner backhanded a shot past Isles goalie Anders Nilsson on a power play, and Loktionov beat Nilsson with a tight-angle shot on a nice play. When Alexander Semin scored on a power play early in the second period, the Canes were within 4-3 and the crowd alive.

But Martin, unchecked in front of the crease, scored late in the second for a 5-3 lead. Gerbe answered 22 seconds later for the Canes, but there was no third-period push.

The Canes began the third on the power play but got nothing out of it. Another Carolina power play late in regulation was wrecked by poor passes and good penalty killing by the Isles.

“I thought we played well to get back in the game,” said Skinner, who scored his 27th of the season and team-leading 10th power-play goal. “We just couldn’t find another one. It’s hard to play a game when you’re constantly coming from behind.”

McDonald, who assisted on Martin’s second goal, had a three-point night for the Isles, who ripped Vancouver 7-4 earlier in March and are 13-4-1 in their last 18 road games.

The Canes now have 10 games remaining in the season. Considering Tuesday’s game, it’s hard to say how the season will play out or what will occur after it.

It’s expected Jim Rutherford will step down as Carolina’s general manager after 20 years on the job and that Ron Francis will succeed him. One major decision likely to be made will be whether to retain Muller and the staff.

“There are guys in here with a lot of pride,” Skinner said. “We’ve got guys who have been pros for a long time. It’s disappointing where we are but we still have a job to do.”

Alexander: 919-829-8945

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