Luke DeCock

Fans go home unhappy, but not Hurricanes after OT loss

Carolina Hurricanes’ Jordan Staal (11) celebrates his goal at 18:25 in the third period to tie the Islanders 1-1 and force overtime on Thursday, October 4, 2018 at PNC Arena in Raleigh, N.C.
Carolina Hurricanes’ Jordan Staal (11) celebrates his goal at 18:25 in the third period to tie the Islanders 1-1 and force overtime on Thursday, October 4, 2018 at PNC Arena in Raleigh, N.C. rwillett@newsobserver.com

After going through the trouble of a fan vote for their new goal-celebration song, with the recording artist present in the building on opening night, the Carolina Hurricanes came dangerously close to not needing it at all.

And as the first 44 shots of the season – not counting the three pucks the Hurricanes banged off the post or crossbar – piled up over 58 minutes, as the New York Islanders took the lead despite ice tilted against them, all the familiar frustrations boiled over in a fan base that saw this particular scenario too many times. Thursday night started to feel less like the birth of a new era and more like the bitter continuation of an old one, a start more stale than fresh despite a roster rototilled until half the players on the ice were new arrivals.

It felt like that in the stands and in the wailing precincts of the internet, but not on the Hurricanes’ bench, where the mood was a little lighter. That group felt none of the need to shrug off history. It felt only that its effort would be rewarded, perhaps not even in the confines of the game, but in the long run. There was satisfaction in doing things the right way, even without the right result. Yet.

“It was fine,” newly minted captain Justin Williams said. “I think at that point in time, you’re controlling the game. You’re controlling the play. And if we didn’t win this one, that was fine, but the process was right. We were just going to stay with it.”

There were a mere 95 seconds left when Dougie Hamilton’s shot from the right point into a clot of players in front of the net struck Jordan Staal on the left thigh on its way into the net. Cue the celebration: “Raise Up,” the towels twirled overhead like helicopters, a point secured in what would end up a 2-1 overtime loss after a late Michael Ferland penalty put the Islanders on a decisive power play to start the extra period.

It was certainly deflating, a disappointing way to start the season in front of a fervent crowd ready to party, and those don’t come along often these days at PNC. The exuberance of the preseason, with its rat-a-tat procession of Carolina goals raised expectations not easily met, even under the best of circumstances, but in the process injected this particular evening with a sense of optimism and momentousness that has been missing in recent years, even on opening night.

Sending everyone home unhappy wasn’t the plan, and yet not all that momentum was squandered. Making sure the players headed to the airport happy was more important. And they did.

“They played their butts off and can walk out of here feeling good,” Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour said after his head-coaching debut. “I feel bad for the people that came in here expecting us to win and we all expected to win, but sometimes it doesn’t work out that way.”

Therein lies the difference between then and now, between what was and what they hope will be.

This was an honest effort, no corners cut. The Islanders’ first goal was a defensive breakdown after a failed clear; the Hurricanes probably had five chances as good but failed to score. Andrei Svechnikov was a force, and should have been moved into a bigger role long before he actually was, with seven minutes to go. Martin Necas was a whirling dancer, perhaps too confident, but something dialed back more easily than dialed up. Hamilton was curiously omitted from the power play – he scored six of his 17 with the man advantage in Calgary last season – but created the goal with Petr Mrazek pulled for an extra skater.

A single point from an overtime loss isn’t what anyone showed up to see, and it probably won’t sell a ton of tickets. If in the long term it turns out to be a step in the right direction, that’s all anyone will remember.

Sports columnist Luke DeCock: 919-829-8947, ldecock@newsobserver.com, @LukeDeCock
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