The Carolina Hurricanes’ first full game without center Jordan Staal didn’t go well.
Then again, few have for the Canes at New York’s Madison Square Garden the past six years, with or without Staal.
The Canes again left the Garden ice disappointed Tuesday, after a 3-2 loss to the Rangers. A 2-0 first-period lead by the Canes was a 40-minute-old memory as the Canes lost at the Garden for the 11th straight time (0-8-3).
And here’s the kicker: thanks to quirky scheduling, the Canes go back to the Garden for another game Saturday with the Rangers.
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That Tuesday’s game was decided on a third-period power play, after veteran Canes defenseman Ron Hainsey lost his cool and picked up a pair of penalties, added to the sting.
The Canes’ Viktor Stalberg had both first-period goals, probably causing some Rangers fans to mutter, “Tell me again why we didn’t bring this guy back.” Stalberg, with the Rangers last season, signed with Carolina as a free agent.
“For two periods, we were a really good team,” Stalberg said. “We played one of the best teams in the league on the road and felt like we were the dominating team, pushing the pace out there.”
But again, a mistake here and a mistake there were the difference for a team that’s 9-9-4 and facing an indefinite amount of games without Staal, its best two-way player.
Staal sustained a concussion in the first period Sunday against the Florida Panthers, and while the Canes rallied for a 3-2 win — after trailing 2-0 in the first at PNC Arena — it could be a game-to-game struggle should Staal be out a lengthy period of time.
Canes coach Bill Peters adjusted by moving Teuvo Teravainen to center, and the Canes outskated and outhustled the Rangers for much of the first two periods, limiting New York to 12 shots.
“I thought we skated good early,” Peters said. “We skated and made plays. Then we stood around a little bit more as the game went along. We weren’t as dangerous and we didn’t make any plays and we spent too much time defending.”
Nash tied the score early in the third with a well-placed backhander as defenseman Justin Faulk couldn’t close the gap. As Peters said, “We were on our heels then.”
Hainsey was called for hooking at 13:13 of the third. Irked over the call, he let his displeasure be known and was called for unsportsmanlike conduct.
Jimmy Vesey scored the power-play goal for the Rangers with 5:12 left in regulation and that was that.
After the game, the Rangers had some good things to say about the Canes, perhaps mindful they will see them again in a few days.
“They are playing a lot better now than I think the last time we saw them,” said goalie Henrik Lundqvist, who is 24-11-1 against Carolina. “They had more confidence and more speed. They made it pretty tough for us.”
The Canes were 3-2 winners over the Rangers in their Oct. 28 home opener at PNC Arena. That was with Staal in the lineup.
And without him? The Canes will find out.
Hurricanes at Bruins
When: 7 p.m. Thursday
Where: TD Garden, Boston