Hockey, like so many sports, is filled with ebbs and flows.
Often, it’s within a game. At times, it’s game to game.
On Saturday, when the Carolina Hurricanes opened the season, Sebastian Aho could do no wrong. His two assists in the third period, one on a dazzling, spinning pass to Victor Rask, helped the Canes rally and then beat the Minnesota Wild in a shootout.
Three nights later, Aho had the game on his stick. With the Canes and Columbus Blue Jackets locked up in overtime Tuesday at PNC Arena, Aho seemed poised to finish off a three-on-one rush with a shot from the right wing.
But Aho misfired. His attempt was well wide of the net, the puck taking a hard carom around the boards. Columbus forward Sonny Milano soon was in full flight the other way, beating Canes goalie Scott Darling on a breakaway with 31 seconds left in OT for a 2-1 win.
Milano’s second goal of the game came on a crafty forehand-to-backhand shot that was almost identical to the shootout shot the Canes’ Jaccob Slavin used Saturday to beat the Wild. And on the same end of the ice.
When the Canes came back to take two points out of the opener, it was just what they needed. But Tuesday’s loss was a stinger, and against a Metropolitan Division team they might be battling for an Eastern Conference playoff spot by season’s end.
As the Canes’ Jeff Skinner said, “It’s a tough point to let go. We left one on the table in OT.”
Darling was calmer in net than in the opener, although the Blue Jackets’ Sergei Bobrovsky was marginally better. The Canes’ goal, with 1:25 left in regulation, came on Skinner’s shot from the slot after Darling was pulled for a sixth attacker.
The Canes could have won in overtime after the Jackets’ Artemi Panarin was called for hooking Jordan Staal as he broke to the front of the net. Carolina had a 4-on-3 power play and got off six shots, some heavy, but Bobrovsky, as befitting the 2017 Vezina Trophy winner, shut the Canes down.
“You need one there,” Canes coach Bill Peters said. “You need one there or on the three-on-one. Those were good opportunities to finish.”
The Canes, in two games, have twice gotten two tough calls. On Saturday, the Wild’s last-second goal in regulation counted after a review for goaltender interference, a decision that did not set well with the Canes. On Tuesday, a no-call was problematic. With the Canes on a power play, the Blue Jackets’ Matt Calvert flipped the puck over the glass. It could have been 1:57 of a 5-on-3 advantage for Carolina, and replays indicated the puck was not touched by a Canes player, but the ruling was no delay-of-game call, and the Blue Jackets killed off the penalty.
Nick Foligno’s hit on Canes defenseman Brett Pesce didn’t set well with Peters, either.
Foligno was called for a two-minute boarding minor after hitting Pesce from behind in the first period and sending him head-first into the boards. Pesce was not hurt but could have been.
“That’s a two-minute minor in the NHL these days,” Peters said. “It’s the same as that little slash ... That hit, to me, was probably a little more than a two-minute minor, I would think, but not my decision.”
Calls aside, the Canes didn’t generate a lot five-on-five. They were sluggish during their two power plays in regulation.
But defenseman Klas Dahlbeck stepped in for Trevor van Riemsdyk, out indefinitely with a concussion, and gave the Canes some thump. So did his defensive partner, rookie Haydn Fleury, who had a team-high five hits.
The Hurricanes will need to be better on the road and that’s where they’re headed. They now have four straight away games during the N.C. State Fair – at Winnipeg, Edmonton, Calgary and Dallas – before returning to PNC Arena on Oct. 24 to face the Tampa Bay Lightning.
“It will definitely show us where we’re at,” Staal said.