Victor Rask was on a stationary bike within minutes after the Carolina Hurricanes’ 2-1 overtime loss Friday to the Colorado Avalanche.
Rask’s head was down and his face flushed as he pedaled away in a postgame workout.
“Flushing it out,” he said Saturday.
Rask was a part of the decisive play in overtime. The Canes center took a pass from defenseman Ron Hainsey just over the Colorado blue line and made a move up the right boards, only to fumble the puck and have it knocked away by Avs center Matt Duchene.
In a flash, Duchene was headed up ice on a two-on-one rush. Mikko Rantanen one-timed Duchene’s pass past goalie Cam Ward and the league’s worst team had handed the Canes a damaging home-ice loss.
The Canes were coming off their NHL bye week, and the Avs had played Thursday in Buffalo, losing to the Sabres 2-0. The Canes were sluggish early, although Rask showed some jump, making a nice power move to the net in the first period as he centered a line with wingers Brock McGinn and Derek Ryan.
Jeff Skinner scored the Canes’ goal in the final minute of the first period, his 19th, offsetting Tyson Barrie’s score for the Avs. The Canes had other scoring chances, some of the best shorthanded, after the first, but Avs goalie Calvin Pickard had all the answers.
“We just couldn’t score,” Rask said. “I thought we were the best team, but we unfortunately we didn’t win.”
For the 12th straight game, Rask did not have a goal or assist. It has been a frustrating, puzzling stretch for the Swede, who rarely shows any outward emotion but has a lot of personal and competitive pride.
“Obviously, I expect myself to be better, and I put huge pressure on myself,” Rask said. “It’s good to put pressure on yourself because I always want to be the best out there. I just need to find my game.”
Rask, 23, was given a six-year, $24 million contract extension in the offseason. He was named one of the Canes’ four alternate captains for this season and began the year with a nice offensive burst — eight goals and seven assists in the first 17 games.
But since scoring goals in consecutive games against Columbus and Buffalo in mid-January, Rask has been held without a point. He has 25 shots in the 12 games but hasn’t been able to score, and has a minus-8 rating in those games.
Asked what changed, Rask said, “I wish I could tell you. I’m not sure. Obviously I want to get back to it. I know I haven’t played the way I want to play, and I hope I can find my game again. We’ve got a lot of games left, so hopefully I can turn it around.”
For Rask, “finding his game” means holding onto the puck longer, making more plays. It’s being defensively sound and strong in the faceoff circle.
Rask lost eight of 11 draws Friday, leading Canes coach Bill Peters to say, “Whatever line he’s playing on he’s getting dominated on faceoffs a little bit. When that happens it means you’re defending and that makes it tough. There are things he can do better, but I would recommend starting with the puck. That makes the game a little easier.”
Rask said he spent the bye week in Miami, resting and getting some sun while also getting in some workouts. He’s one who is in favor of the mandated time off, saying, “I feel good. My body needed that rest.”
What the Canes (24-22-8) need is wins. Losing to the Avs was a dismal way to start a run of five home games, leaving Carolina seven points behind the Toronto Maple Leafs and the second wild-card playoff spot in the Eastern Conference before Saturday’s games.
The Canes host the Leafs on Sunday at PNC Arena, with a chance to pull closer. With another chance for Rask to find his game.
Maple Leafs at Hurricanes
When: 7 p.m. Sunday.
Where: PNC Arena, Raleigh.