It’s often a thin margin that separates winners and losers in games in the NHL.
A shot that grazes the crossbar and stays out of the net. A goalie flashing the glove to grab a puck for a tough save. A neutral-zone turnover. A misplay on special teams.
The Carolina Hurricanes didn’t have enough good plays Sunday to beat the Philadelphia Flyers, losing 4-3 at PNC Arena. Even more stinging was that the Flyers got the winning goal in the third period short-handed, on defenseman Brandon Manning’s score eight minutes into the period.
“It’s not many times you give up short-handed goals, and you don’t want to give them up in big spots,” Canes forward Jeff Skinner said. “It was definitely a big play in the game. At the same time, we had time to regroup and make a push. We just couldn’t find one to go.”
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Skinner had a goal and assist, following up a strong game Friday in the Canes’ home opener when he had two goals and nearly a hat trick. Defenseman Justin Faulk and forward Viktor Stalberg also scored for the Canes (2-4-2), who topped the New York Rangers 3-2 on Friday with some gritty third-period play.
Stalberg’s goal in the second period Sunday, after he knocked the puck away from Flyers defenseman Ivan Provorov in the neutral zone, gave the Canes a 3–2 lead. Carolina was surging, building momentum.
But a turnover by Canes rookie Sebastian Aho, on a pass to Jordan Staal in the neutral zone and with Manning pressing him along the wall, quickly was turned into a tying goal by the Flyers’ Claude Giroux, and it was 3-3 after two periods.
“We turn it over, and then we don’t defend it very well coming back in,” Canes coach Bill Peters said. “We had enough people back, but we don’t pick people up.”
Manning’s goal, his second of the season, came a half-minute after the Flyers’ Provorov was called for hooking Aho. Victor Rask was unable to handle a pass at the half-wall on the power play, allowing the Flyers’ Pierre-Edouard Bellemare to grab the puck and make a quick pass to Manning heading up the left wing.
“A huge deflator for us,” Canes forward Lee Stempniak said.
Manning’s shot beat Canes goalie Cam Ward, and Carolina couldn’t tie it up. A shot by defenseman Jaccob Slavin grazed the crossbar, and the Canes had other chances, but Flyers goalie Michal Neuvirth finished up the game well, closing with 26 saves.
The Flyers (4-5-1), coming off a tough 5-4 loss Saturday to the Pittsburgh Penguins, also got goals from defensemen Shayne Gostisbehere and Radko Gudas. Gostisbehere, a second-year player who is fast becoming a Canes killer, scored on a first-period power-play shot from the left point after Stalberg failed to clear the puck from the zone. Gudas also found the net with an outside shot that got past Ward in the second period.
Faulk’s goal came on a shot from the top, and Skinner scored off a nice pass from defenseman Ron Hainsey, who had a pair of assists. Rask, who had a mostly quiet game, also assisted on Skinner’s fifth goal of the season and now has points in all eight games to start the season.
Ron Francis, now the Canes’ general manager, holds the franchise record with points in the first 11 games of the 1984-85 season. Rask now is second alone.
The Canes had enough scoring chances. Aho and Skinner had good early looks, and center Elias Lindholm, who has not scored this season, had his opportunities.
The Hurricanes continue to struggle getting consistent play from their sixth defenseman. Klas Dalhbeck, again in the lineup, did not play in the third period.
“We need 18 guys going,” Peters said of the Canes’ skaters. “We don’t have 18 guys going right now. We need 18 guys to find a way to make a positive contribution in the game.
“It’s as simple at that. We’re losing too many shifts on a consistent basis with certain people on the ice, and that can’t continue.”
Not in tight games, with a thin margin for error.