RALEIGH, NC -- If the Carolina Hurricanes are going to establish themselves as a contender to make a push in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, they better address their special teams issues, and fast.
On Monday night at PNC Arena, the Canes had an opportunity to see what a Cup-holding penalty kill looks like in the form of the visiting Boston Bruins, and it was the difference in Boston's 5-3 victory.
The Hurricanes showed grit and battled the Bruins, even while often playing their game, and were positioned quite well, tied with two minutes left in the contest. But two Boston goals -- one an empty netter with 7 seconds left -- sealed Carolina's fate.
The Canes got goals again from Jeff Skinner (his fifth on the season), who has scored in four consecutive games, and Eric Staal (fourth) in bang-bang fashion to tie the game late in the second period. But that they were even in such a hole is the real tale of this game's story.
Carolina quickly found itself behind 2-0 because of the difference in special teams with the Bruins. It had nothing to do with the tweaked first, second and third lines, or even the sporadic early play of goalie Cam Ward. Boston's first goal was shorthanded, and if that wasn't enough, the Bruins tapped one into the net with a man advantage three minutes later, and a pinch more than six minutes into the game the Hurricanes faced a 2-0 deficit.
"They've got great personnel and they stick to a system that's worked for a while now, and obviously they are very dedicated to it," Carolina defenseman Jay Harrison said. "Their experience and willingness to penalty kill is exemplary for sure."
But that Boston scored when Carolina had a man advantage on the ice is what really makes the sequence so disturbing. Boston leads the NHL in killing penalties, not having allowed a goal yet. Carolina was 0-for-6 on Monday night.
But the Bruins also came in having scored just once on a power play goal and not yet when shorthanded.
"Their PK is real good," Canes coach Kirk Muller said. "It's aggressive, they've played together for a long time, they know each other. We just gotta get the job done. We gotta get some production on the power play and we have a few days here to work on it and get that up and ticking."
If tracking positives amidst this negative, at least the Hurricanes overcame that deficit and had a chance to win. Carolina got 18 shots on goal in the final period to only 8 by the Bruins.
They pushed, but couldn't get a fourth goal into the net. And in the end, that early margin was too much to overcome, as it left the Hurricanes with precious little room for error for the rest of the night.
"We didn't get discouraged," Staal said. "I thought we battled back, I thought we knew that if we stuck to what we were doing we would be alright, and we did. We got it to 3-3 in our building going into the third period, that's good."
But what wasn't so hot was the Canes' special teams, which was ranked 20th in the NHL before Monday's contest. They now have three goals in 26 power plays (11.5 percent). Boston, incidentally, has killed 23 of 23 opportunities thus far.
At least the Hurricanes know something they definitely must work on develop into a team capable of chasing the dream they reached in winning the 2006 Stanley Cup.
"They were in our face and are quick," Staal said. "You have to move the puck quick, and make them tired. You have to be a little bit quicker on pucks... They were quick on the penalty kill, which made it difficult on us.
"We'll try and get a little sharper in that area for sure."