Jaccob Slavin sat on a pad in the locker room Tuesday at PNC Arena, silent, eyes fixed, staring into space.
Justin Faulk had a slightly dazed, faraway look as he tried to explain what had just happened to the Carolina Hurricanes.
Said a sullen Justin Williams, “I’m very stunned right now.”
The Canes, playing with desperation and with an edge, led the Boston Bruins 4-1 midway through the third period. And then lost 6-4.
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Faulk said something about how the Bruins scored a goal in the third and then “smelled blood.” The Canes clearly were bleeding by game’s end, somberly moving around their room at after what could have been their most gut-wrenching loss of the season.
That’s a mouthful in itself because the Canes have had their share of gut-wrenchers — not to mention some ugly blowout losses — in a season in which they seemed so sure they would be headed to Stanley Cup playoffs for the first time since 2009. Now, the Canes almost certainly will not.
“There are a few too many times where we’ve had situations where we had to say, ‘How do we regroup from this?’” Faulk said.
For the first 50 minutes, it was all there for Carolina. Power-play goals by Sebastian Aho and Teuvo Teravainen. A shorthanded strike by Brock McGinn.
Williams, when he wasn’t yapping with the Bruins’ Brad Marchand or Zdeno Chara or whoever was in his vicinity, also scored a goal. Williams was at his ornery best.
But the final 10 minutes would be a blur of Boston goals and defensive breakdowns and odd-man rushes, a hat trick for the Bruins’ David Pastrnak and a lot of head-hanging for the Canes. Another loss. Another bad one.
“We obviously don’t have that mindset to say enough it enough,” Williams said.
Whatever confidence the Hurricanes might have had when they were battling the Columbus Blue Jackets and New York Islanders for a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference has all but eroded. There was a time when Canes coach Bill Peters talked of his team perhaps climbing into the top three in the Metropolitan Division and not having to accept a wild-card playoff spot. That, too, has ended.
“We’re playing tight, we’re not playing loose,” Faulk said.
Where once it may have seemed exciting to check out the NHL standings, now it’s a downer: seven points behind the New Jersey Devils, who hold the second wild-card spot. Ahead of the Canes (30-29-11) are the Florida Panthers, who have made a strong, late-season push into playoff contention.
“You know, we know, everyone knows where we are in the standings,” Faulk said. “You want to sit here and say, ‘Yeah, we’re going to come back and regroup’ and we have to.”
Peters, for the most part, made his answers short after the game. He talked about “self-inflicted wounds” and other mistakes and his team being mentally tired in the third period.
In the final stretch of his fourth season as coach, Peters could again miss the playoffs and this time with a new team owner, Tom Dundon, in place and watching, evaluating.
Dundon has praised Peters for his preparation, organization and his generally upbeat, can-do attitude. Dundon also realizes he has an unhappy, disgruntled fan base and needs to sell tickets next season.
Peters once said losing was contagious. Has it become contagious with this team?
“You know what, that’s a fair question,” Peters said.
Asked if the Canes needed a turnover in personnel to combat a culture of losing, Peters said, “That’s a good question.”
Those weren’t exactly answers. Then again, maybe they were.