For teams trying to stay in the playoff chase, there’s nothing worse than a regulation loss.
The Carolina Hurricanes took that kind of loss and felt its sting Sunday, losing 4-2 to the Tampa Bay Lightning at PNC Arena.
In what became an increasingly tense game, the Canes and Lightning were tied 2-2 in the third period. But a high-sticking call against the Canes’ Jordan Staal led to a Steven Stamkos power-play goal, and Ryan Callahan's second goal of the game, an empty netter, sealed it for Tampa Bay.
Despite the two late goals, the Lightning would not have won had Ben Bishop not been stout in net. The towering 6-foot-7 goalie, who had 29 saves, was pressured in the final minutes of regulation when the Canes pulled goalie Cam Ward for an extra attacker, but Bishop turned away two shots by Jeff Skinner and others by Elias Lindholm and Jordan Staal.
“We’ve been a hard-working team and tonight was a great effort but it was little mistakes,” Staal said. “We’ve got to find a way to keep pushing forward. We’re playing some strong hockey and we’re in every match. Tonight was an unfortunate one.”
The Canes (27-23-10) began the game four points out of playoff position when the Pittsburgh Penguins topped the Buffalo Sabres in an afternoon game. The Lightning, who beat the Pens 4-2 on Saturday, also had their fathers along on a “Dads Trip” — always added motivation for the visitors.
J.T. Brown had the first Tampa Bay goal, causing a commotion in the suite where the fathers were seated. Brown’s father, Ted, is the former N.C. State football great and the ACC’s all-time leading rusher, and was along for the trip.
Joakim Nordstrom and Jordan Staal teamed up for a shorthanded goal in the first period, Nordstrom scoring on a backhander for a 1-0 lead. But Brown scored in the second to tie the score, then Callahan ripped a shot from the right wing past Ward just after the Canes killed off a penalty.
The Canes tied it 2-2 in the second when defenseman Michal Jordan — staying in the lineup with Justin Faulk still out with an injury — first faked a shot from the left wing, then circled the net for a wraparound stuff. It was Jordan’s first point of the season and just his third career goal in 64 games.
Faulk went through the morning skate and pregame warmup, but missed his sixth straight game with a lower-body injury. The NHL All-Star could return Tuesday against the Philadelphia Flyers.
Stamkos' goal was his 25th of the season. Unchecked in the low slot, he beat Ward with four seconds left on the power play and five minutes, 43 seconds left in regulation. Stamkos also assisted on Callahan’s first goal.
“It was very deep in that (penalty) kill when they get the game-winning goal,” Canes coach Bill Peters said. “If we get through that we’re probably still out there playing.”
The Canes had a chance to take the lead early in the third, but defenseman Brett Pesce hit the post with an attempt. Carolina had a power play later in the period and Pesce again had an open look but broke his stick on the shot.
The Lightning (33-22-4) played without leading scorer Nikita Kucherov, out with a lower-body injury. But Brown was a pest around the net and forward Cedric Paquette had a pair of assists after being hit on the foot in the Pittsburgh game.
Canes fans weren’t happy with some of the no-calls in the game but Peters wasn’t complaining.
“The refs put the whistles away and it’s a man’s game out there,” he said. “You’ve got to step up and play. It’s fun. It’s a great time of year.”