The Carolina Hurricanes took the ice for their home opener in front of 18, 680 fans in Raleigh on Tuesday night. The game was Jordan Staal and Alexander Semkin’s first game at the PNC Arena as Hurricanes players. Coming into the game, Carolina was 3-7-2-2 in home openers played in North Carolina and tonight’s game was the third home opener against the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Cam Ward got the start in net for Carolina and quickly saw his team fall behind by two on goals by Tom Pyatt and Cory Conacher. Pyatt’s goal at 5:18 came when he got past Bobby Sanguinette, took a pass from Lightning captain Vincent Lecavalier and batted the puck out of the air.
“I saw it coming. Obviously, there was a little bit of luck in there, too,” Pyatt said. “I never played any baseball or anything, but I guess it came natural.”
Momentum in the second started to shift in favor of Carolina as the Hurricanes out-shot the Lightning 13-11. Three minutes into the second period, Ryan Malone of Tampa Bay sent captain Eric Staal headfirst into the boards. The boarding call put Carolina on a 5-on-3 advantage and Hurricane Forward Jeff Skinner found a lose puck in front of the net and back-handed it by Lightning Goalie Mathieu Garon to pull to within one.
“I think the PP was good.” said Skinner. “That is definitely a positive, we could have buried a couple more, but if it generated momentum like that…good things will happen.”
The third period saw Lightning Defenseman, Keith Aulie add a momentum-killing goal early in the third and that proved too much for Carolina to bear. The Hurricanes out-shot the Lightning 15 -7 in the closing period, but Mathieu Garon in his first start of the season, stopped all 15 and 35 on the night. Ryan Malone added a power play goal less than five minutes to play to put Tampa up by three goals.
Cam Ward stopped 22 shots, but gave up four goals for the second straight game.
“There’s some good things in our game, but there’s a little bit where I think we just need to get down and get gritty, compete a little bit more on pucks and one-on-one battles, and being physical in the corners and make it difficult for teams to get to our net,” Carolina captain Eric Staal said. “Clean that up, and we’ll be fine. We had enough offense. We had some good looks, and just didn’t capitalize enough.”
Head Coach Kirk Muller reiterated the point made by Staal. “We were better tonight than we were the other night.” said Muller. “Bottom line is, I would say, the area we have to get better at is to be a tougher team to play against.”
The Hurricanes will have to learn that toughness quick with Northeast Division rival Buffalo Sabre’s coming into Raleigh on Thursday night.