Eddie Lack’s timing couldn’t have been worse.
In his first start since early November, the Carolina Hurricanes goaltender faced a Washington Capitals team that had won nine straight games at home at the Verizon Center. Among those roughed up by the Caps in the nine-game run were the Chicago Blackhawks (6-0), Philadelphia Flyers (5-0), Los Angeles Kings (5-0) and the Columbus Blue Jackets (5-0), ending the Blue Jackets’ 16-game winning streak. Washington also beat the Canes 6-1 on Jan. 23.
The Canes were back Tuesday, with Lack in net. The goalie has recovered from what he said were two concussions, and the decision was made to slot him in against the Caps and give Cam Ward, who started a back-to-back games Friday and Saturday, the night off.
The result was somewhat predictable. Lack was antsy and rusty, and the Caps (37-11-6), playing their best hockey of the season, made it 10 in a row at home with a 5-0 win.
“I felt like I was chasing the game at first,” said Lack, who faced 28 shots. “I was all over the place. Maybe I wanted it too much, you know. I felt like I settled down in the second and made some good saves, and they got some good goals in the third.
“It’s never fun letting five goals in, for sure. One part of me feels like it’s fun being back and playing and everything, and one part of me is disappointed.”
The Canes (24-21-7) had won three straight since the NHL All-Star break as Ward stopped 72 of 78 shots, a .923 save percentage. That alleviated part of the damage of a five-game slide before the break — all regulation losses — and had the Canes within four points of the Flyers and wild-card playoff position in the Eastern Conference.
The Canes still sit four points behind the Flyers and still have four teams between them and the Flyers. Carolina has games-in-hand on most but not all — the New York Islanders had played one less game than Carolina after Tuesday’s games.
The rub: After Saturday’s road game against the Dallas Stars, the Canes will go into their five-day bye week, forced to sit and watch. No one can say how wide the point gap will be when the Canes play again Feb. 17, beginning a five-game homestand against the Colorado Avalanche.
After the bye week, Carolina has 17 of the last 29 games at home.
But all that’s ahead for the Canes. What’s fresher on their minds is a 5-0 loss in which they trailed 2-0 after the first period, played a stronger second, then allowed two goals in 27 seconds in the third as the Caps broke it open.
Washington had a pair of power-play scores in the game against the NHL’s top-rated penalty killing team, getting goals from Alex Ovechkin in the first and Marcus Johansson in the third. The Canes were 0-3 on the power play, two in the second period.
“It was pretty even and they scored on the power play (in the first) and that changed the momentum for them,” Canes forward Lee Stempniak said.
It was another shutout for Caps goalie Braden Holtby, whose most timely save came in the second. Canes rookie Sebastian Aho had a breakaway after a stretch pass from Jaccob Slavin, but Holtby turned away Aho’s shot and that was that.
Ward should be back in net Saturday when the Canes face the Stars in Dallas.
“You want to go into the break with a good taste in your mouth,” Stempniak said. “And we need all the points we can get.”