When the Carolina Hurricanes locker room was opened to the media Monday, captain Eric Staal was sitting at his stall, alone, waiting to offer up some answers.
When the media left, Staal still was seated, staring straight ahead, as if still trying to come up with answers.
The Canes had been beaten 3-1 by the Chicago Blackhawks, again battling, competing hard, pushing one of the NHL’s best teams. Yet when the game was over at PNC Arena, the Canes had lost.
Anton Khudobin did some terrific work in net for the Hurricanes, Victor Rask scored a goal and Carolina put 44 shots on Blackhawks goalie Corey Crawford. But Crawford did his job, the Blackhawks scored twice during the first period and Chicago withstood the Canes’ comeback try.
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“For whatever reason, goals are hard to come by,” Staal said. “We definitely generated enough chances, enough looks in the offensive zone in the second and third periods once we started playing.”
The Canes’ problem was they didn’t start playing hard enough or well enough until after Andrew Shaw and Patrick Sharp scored 79 seconds apart to give Chicago a 2-0 lead.
Rask scored his 11th of the season on the rebound of a shot by Staal, who was stopped by Crawford on a second-period breakaway. The Canes outshot the Blackhawks 19-6 in the second and 15-10 in the third, swarming around the crease and suffocating Crawford at times, but Chicago blocked shots and got sticks on pucks while Crawford made enough stops.
“He stood on his head, the goalie,” Rask said.
Crawford, 7-1-1 during his past nine starts, was the latest goalie to stymie the Canes (26-36-10). In the three games before Monday, the Canes were beaten in overtime by Ottawa’s Andrew Hammond, shut out by Montreal’s Carey Price and beaten in a shootout by Cam Talbot of the New York Rangers.
Are the Canes snakebit offensively?
“No,” Staal said. “For whatever reason it’s not going to the back (of the net). You need to keep working and competing. It’s a boring answer, but it is what it is.”
The Blackhawks (44-22-6) are chasing the St. Louis Blues and Nashville Predators in the Central Division – third in the division but fourth overall in the Western Conference. Even with star forward Patrick Kane out the past 11 games with a fractured clavicle, the Blackhawks have not lost much ground, although they did lose 4-0 Saturday against Dallas.
The Blackhawks got the start they wanted Monday, scoring on their first two shots. Shaw was unchecked in the slot, taking a pass from Marcus Kruger. And Sharp then darted between the circles to score off a pass from Marian Hossa a little more than nine minutes in.
“We didn’t start on time,” Canes coach Bill Peters said. “If it continues like that it was going to end ugly. Guys dug in. We started making plays.”
An empty-net goal by Shaw with 40 seconds left in regulation -- Jonathan Toews had an assist for his 500th career point -- finished off the Canes and gave ‘Hawks coach Joel Quenneville his 750th win. It had Chicago fans – and there were a lot – in the crowd of 13,786 roaring. The cheers didn’t go unnoticed.
“Our fans are frustrated,” Staal said. “I’ve been here when it’s been loud and energetic and awesome. Now it’s not. But it’s our job as a team and organization to win these people back.
“They’ll come back. People are there. We’ve just got to win and get ‘em back.”