Raleigh, NC -- An annual quirk in the schedule forces the Carolina Hurricanes to hit the road for much of October, which is a grueling way to start a long, grinding season. But it also means the Canes get a bunch of home games on the flip side.
That time has arrived, now that the North Carolina State Fair has concluded, but the Canes got the home stand off to a rough start, falling in a shootout to the Ottawa Senators, 3-2, on Tuesday night at the RBC Center.
The importance of taking advantage of this stretch of contests is vital if the Canes are going to get back to the playoffs for the first time since 2009. They just missed out the playoffs a year ago by falling in the season finale, and in looking back, there were many moments during the season in which Carolina could have changed the eventual outcome of its season.
Tuesday's loss, in which Carolina at least managed to get a point by virtue of the overtime, was particularly frustrating given its domination of the first period. The Canes had 15 shots on goal to Ottawa's five in the opening period, but failed to scratch. Those missed opportunities proved huge.
"You look at it and you think you can play better," Canes center Jeff Skinner said. "But where we were, the situation we were, it's good to get a point. You always want two points when it goes into OT."
The Hurricanes had several chances right in front of the net in the opening period, but suddenly couldn't get looks for most of the rest of the contest. In fact, Carolina went the next 35 hockey minutes while attempting only 10 shots on goal and trailed 2-0 with five minutes remaining.
Tuomo Ruutu then put the Canes on the board with 4:52 left in regulation, and Jamie McBain scored two minutes later to tie the score, eventually sending it into overtime. But Ottawa, which is now 4-5 on the young season, pulled it out in the shootout.
The late surge is something the team says it can build on. McBain says it says something about his teammates.
"It shows the character we have in the room to never stop believing," he said.
Skinner, though, said it shouldn't have taken so long to get back to playing sound hockey.
"Our d-men did the great job of getting pucks through and they really battled," Skinner said, referring to the opening period. "The rebounds were bouncing over sticks, or it seemed that way. You have to be mentally tough coming into the intermission, regroup and stay with it."
The home stand began with 11 of the next 16 games here at the RBC Center. Carolina came away with five points in the recently-concluded five-game road trip, so it was certainly considered a success.
But now they must take care of business at home. Hockey teams can sometimes get complacent playing so many games at home in a short period of time, so Carolina must guard against that. More than anything, however, the Hurricanes need to focus on making this stretch of games work in their favor come early April.
"It's big," McBain said. "We learned how important each point is every game and last year with the way it ended. Once again, obviously two points is what we were shooting for, but in the end, when you're down 2-0 with a few minutes left and are able to battle back like that, we see maybe it (the point) can be a big one for us at the end."