RALEIGH — The opportunity was there. The effort was there. The only thing missing was the result.
Sunday night, the Hurricanes fell to the Sabres, 2-1, putting a major dent in Carolina’s quest for a playoff berth.
Marc-Andre Gragnani scored the first goal of his career 62:56 into the game to seal the win for Buffalo. Gragnani’s shot deflected off Hurricane defenseman Tim Gleason and found its way to the back of the net, sending the Sabres’ bench into a frenzy.
“I didn’t see the shot until the last second, I think it hit my stick or my body,” said Gleason in a sour tone. “This time of year you hope for a break or two to go your way, but it didn’t happen tonight.”
The Hurricanes struggled to build any momentum in the early going, only registering six shots on goal in the opening frame.
“The first period we were all jacked up and maybe just a little tense,” said All-Star goaltender Cam Ward. “They played really well in the first and made it really difficult to generate any chances or get the puck to the net.”
The Sabres got on the board first when Chris Butler fired a snap shot past Cam Ward 10:47 into the contest. Carolina only had one shot on goal at that point.
The Hurricanes returned to the locker room after an underwhelming first period of play down 1-0. They knew they weren’t playing acceptable hockey, but showed they were able to adjust.
When Carolina returned to the ice for the second period, they came out with an extra level of intensity. They skated faster, hit harder, and created a lot more offense than the first 20 minutes. The ‘Canes concentrated on driving to the net and putting the puck on goal for the remainder of the game, and it led to a lot more scoring chances.
“We tried to find some way around to the net, which kept our shot total down,” said head coach Paul Maurice about the first period. “We started doing a lot better job getting the puck to the net after the first.”
Carolina’s hard work paid off when captain Eric Staal tied the game 5:50 into the second period with his 33rd goal of the season. To the dismay of the hometown fans, that was the only time their team lit the lamp.
With Ryan Miller out due to an upper-body injury, the ‘Canes faced 22-year-old netminder Jhonas Enroth. With only 11 career NHL games under his belt, Enroth came into Sunday’s game with very little experience. Despite his immaturity, the Swedish native kept his team in the game by coming up big on multiple occasions, saving 35 of 36 shots faced.
“I think our poorest chance went in tonight, and our best stayed out,” said Maurice. “A lot of credit goes to [Enroth]. He played a heck of a game.”
Even though tonight’s loss was devastating, the only thing the Hurricanes can do is move on.
“It seems in every [season] when you lose a game like this, it feels like the end,” Maurice said. “But we can’t let it be that way. We’ll deal with that emotion tomorrow and get back on the horse.”
While the final result was not what the Hurricanes wanted, they played well enough to earn the win. An unfortunate combination of stellar goaltending, missed opportunities, and bad luck prevented Carolina from coming away with a victory.
“There’s a real feeling of disappointment after a loss like that, but not a feeling that we let one slip away,” said Maurice. “We did what we were supposed to do.”
“We gave ourselves the opportunity to win tonight. It could have easily gone the other way,” said Ward. We have to keep on fighting the way we have. We have no choice but to win hockey games and regroup.”
Since the Hurricanes gained a point in the standings tonight, they remain only two points back of the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference. The Sabres moved up to seventh (three points ahead of Carolina), while the Rangers fell to eighth.
“You strive to get two points, but any point this time of the year is huge,” said Ward. “It’s over now, and we have to be ready to move on.”
The Hurricanes return to action on Wednesday when they face-off against the Central Division Champion Detroit Red Wings at the RBC Center.