In so many ways, what transpired on the Madison Square Garden ice was emblematic of the 2015-16 Carolina Hurricanes.
The Hurricanes were able to create offense against a team that fancies itself a Stanley Cup contender, but weren’t able to finish. A team that finds itself traversing the tightrope of inconsistent offense needs its goaltending to be stalwart. Too often it has been often suboptimal, as it was in New York City Monday night.
Simply, it was a formula for another loss, this one a 4-3 decision to the New York Rangers.
Carolina has lost two in a row and fell to 8-12-4 this season. The loss was the Hurricanes’ second this season to New York, their 11th straight at Madison Square Garden and 18th in 19 games against their Metropolitan Division rival.
Jordan Staal, Victor Rask and Chris Terry scored for the Hurricanes, but Cam Ward allowed four goals on 22 shots to a New York team that came into the game having lost three straight in regulation and learned Monday morning that it would not have top-six center Derek Stepan for 4-to-6 weeks as he recuperates from broken ribs.
"Obviously, we need to get wins," Eric Staal said. "We need points. We are finding ways to let them slip away. We have to find a way to pick up the win, and crawl our way back into the mix."
Despite holding advantages in shots on goal (10-6) and total attempted shots (17-12) in the first period, the Hurricanes went into intermission trailing New York 2-0 as Mats Zuccarello and Oscar Lindberg scored power play goals 17 minutes and 14 seconds apart.
Staal halved the lead 1:40 into the second period with his fifth goal of the year. The Hurricanes won a board battle behind Henrik Lundqvist’s net, which led to Andrej Nestrasil finding Staal staring down the New York netminder.
Any momentum the Hurricanes hoped to build upon dissipated 44 seconds later as Chris Kreider’s fourth of the season allowed New York to regain a two-game advantage. Following the Kreider goal, Ward broke his stick in half smashing it against the post.
Ward took centerstage on Derick Brassard’s goal at 15:49 when his clearing attempt landed on the New York center’s stick. Brassard and Kevin Hayes played catch in the offensive zone before the Rangers’ top line center whipped a shot over a diving Ward to push the advantage to 4-1.
Carolina coach Bill Peters refused to pin the loss on Ward. He felt there were more culprits than his goaltender.
"We didn't have enough guys going and we weren't good enough in a lot of areas," Peters said. "Just too many mistakes. We were hit and miss, hot and cold throughout the game."
Rask’s goal two minutes later cut New York’s lead to 4-2. Jaccob Slavin recorded a secondary assist on the goal to record his first NHL point.
The Hurricanes drew to within one, 4-3, on Terry’s forehand-backhand semi-breakaway midway through the third period.
Carolina outshot (36-22) and out-attempted (73-37) New York, but couldn’t take advantage of three powers plays. By comparison, the Rangers finished 2 for 3 on the man advantage.
The second of four meetings between the teams this season also marked Noah Hannifin’s first NHL regular season game at Madison Square Garden. Hanifin had been a healthy scratch for the Hurricanes’ 3-0 loss on Nov. 10.
The Hurricanes scratched Michal Jordan.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.