The Carolina Hurricanes’ 20th game of the season, and the last before Thanksgiving, was their worst.
The New York Rangers worked over the Canes for 60 minutes, making them look slow, indecisive and at times nearly inept in taking a 6-1 victory Wednesday at PNC Arena.
The Rangers whipped the puck around the ice and took advantage of their scoring chances, making it a relatively easy night for goalie Henrik Lundqvist. The Canes got a goal from Sebastian Aho – the Finnish forward’s fifth in the past five games – but the lasting memory from this game will be Canes goalie Scott Darling flubbing Mika Zibanejad’s 92-foot wedge shot, stabbing at the puck with his glove and having it drop in the net.
A bad loss it was, but also only one loss. And at 9-7-4, the Canes are not in playoff position at Thanksgiving, which so many general managers and coaches insist is so important, but they’re not out of touch with many teams in the Metropolitan Division and Eastern Conference, either.
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“We right there,” co-captain Jordan Staal said. “This was our first game that was a complete blowout. There’s been a lot of games where we’ve been in it and created points.
“We’re right there. It’s a tight division. If we want to make a push, we’ll keep building and working and see what happens.”
The Rangers were one of those teams the Canes, out of the playoffs eight straight years, hoped to perhaps slide past this season – moving up while the Rangers were moving down. New York was 1-5-2 after the first eight games, allowing eight goals in a loss to Toronto.
But the Rangers now have won 10 of 14. Lundqvist is Lundqvist. At Thanksgiving, the Rangers are one point out of wild-card playoff position and five points behind Metro leader Columbus.
While Wednesday’s loss was almost dumbfounding, the Canes have gone 5-2-1 in the past eight and are three points out of a playoff spot as the Metro, for now, also owns both wild-card spots.
“We’re not necessarily where we want to be in the standings,” co-captain Justin Faulk said. “We want to be a few more (spots) up there. We have some games in hand and we want to take advantage of those and jump up there and get a playoff spot and be in the playoff picture.
“I think everybody in this room believes we can do it. We’ve proven we can put together runs and play good hockey. For a while there we were scoring goals and giving up too may. Or when we played tight defense we had trouble scoring. We had trouble putting the two things together but we had been doing that of late – playing good defense and creating a lot of chances offensively and we were being rewarded for that. I think we know we can continue on and do it, put tonight past us and and get ourselves into the playoff picture.”
The Canes need more than one line scoring. Aho’s goal Wednesday came on the power play and the line of Staal, Aho and Teuvo Teravainen had some five-on-five chances but not a lot as the Rangers ruled the play at even strength.
The Canes’ young D corps, of which much has been said and most of it good, had a night to both forget and remember. The defensemen were caught out of position, beaten to pucks and gave Darling little support, especially in the third period when New York’s Chris Kreider began the period with a quick power-play goal and Jesper Fast twice scored.
“We didn’t close on anybody,” Canes coach Bill Peters said, a phrase he has not used or had to use this season.
Peters did make a memorable comment about someone making a save last season and he may had the same thought on the bench again after Darling’s gaffe. Just when Darling’s numbers were going in the right direction this season – 2.46 goals-against average, .909 save percentage – he gives up six goals on 27 shots.
After such a shellacking, it’s possible center Victor Rask will return to the lineup Friday for the Toronto Maple Leafs after being banished to healthy-scratch status for the past two games.
“We’re in pretty good spot,” Peters said. “I didn’t see this coming, to be honest with you. We were 5-1-1 in our last seven and playing fairly well and going in the right direction. To me, this was a little bit out of the blue.”