RALEIGH — We’ve officially reached the muddy middle of the NHL season, and games don’t get grimier than Sunday’s between the Hurricanes and Canucks.
After 57 minutes of play that made a good case for staying home for the opening weekend of the NFL playoffs, Carolina got the go-ahead goal from center Sebastian Aho with under three minutes remaining only to allow the equalizer to Vancouver when Brock Boeser scored with an extra attacker. Elias Pettersson then finished off the job, scoring the deciding goal in the shootout to give the Canucks a 4-3 win in front of a sellout crowd Sunday at PNC Arena.
The Hurricanes, Canucks and even the fans seemed mostly uninspired in the second game of a back-to-back for both teams.
“We had spurts where it was really good and obviously we had spurts where it wasn’t,” Hurricanes forward Jordan Martinook said. “It was noticeable, but second half of the back-to-back you’ve gotta find a way to create your own energy.
“You’re a little tired. It’s a hard league and you’ve gotta just create that energy somehow. And we were trying, it just wasn’t 100% there a lot tonight, that’s for sure.”
At the least until the final minutes of regulation.
Carolina went ahead with 2:52 remaining in the third period when Teuvo Teravainen collected an 80-foot pass from Jaccob Slavin along the boards, spun and passed to a slashing Aho. Aho quickly settled the puck and fired it past Vancouver goalie Collin Delia (29 saves) to give the Hurricanes a 3-2 lead.
“Just a nice pass by Slavo and Turbo,” Aho said.
But with Delia on the Vancouver bench for an extra attacker, Canucks defenseman Quinn Hughes won a board battle and got the puck to Andrei Kuzmenko, who centered to Bo Horvat for a one-timer. Hurricanes goalie Pyotr Kochetkov (29 saves) made the initial save, but Boeser snuck the rebound under him to tie the game with 17 seconds left.
“It’s not fun when you get that emotion from that third goal and then give one up to tie it there late,” Martinook said.
After an overtime that included key saves by both Delia and Kochetkov, the game went to a shootout. Both Kuzmenko and Andrei Svechnikov scored, but after Teravainen’s backhand hit the post, Pettersson executed the “postage stamp” move made famous by countryman Peter Forsberg to win it for the Canucks.
“It wasn’t meant to be. We had two crossbars on the shootout,” Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour said, referencing defenseman Brent Burns also hitting a post on his attempt.
Before the late-game theatrics, both teams mostly went through the motions, with Carolina building a two-goal lead that the Canucks chipped away at until they tied the game with 12:25 left in regulation.
Hughes fired a pass that hit J.T Miller in stride, and the Canucks forward took a shot that hit the post. He followed his shot, splitting Carolina defensemen Brett Pesce and Brady Skjei to knock in his own rebound and tie the game 2-2.
That goal came after former Hurricanes defenseman Ethan Bear, traded to Vancouver in late October, cut Carolina’s lead in half late in the second period.
After a long shift in the Canucks’ end, the Hurricanes found themselves back in the defensive zone and tired. Pesce lost a race with Jack Studnicka to the puck, who passed to Kuzmenko.
Kuzmenko spotted Bear pinching in from the point, and the Vancouver defenseman scored short side over Kochetkov’s glove to make it 2-1 with just over two minutes left in the middle frame.
Carolina has given up a lead in each of its last five losses, and Sunday’s two-goal lead was built in the first period.
The Hurricanes struck first in the game’s opening minutes when Svechnikov got the puck along the left boards and cycled back to the blue line. He then curled and sent a pass through a truck-wide lane to Paul Stastny for a one-timer and a 1-0 lead just 2:25 into the game.
Then Martinook got his 10th goal of the season, roofing a rebound of his own backhand with 34 seconds left in the opening period to extend the lead to 2-0.
But the Hurricanes — playing without captain Jordan Staal, who missed the game due to undisclosed personal reasons — squandered the lead and entered a three-day stretch with no games at 27-9-8, still first in the Metropolitan Division but without a second point that seemed secured until the final seconds.
Notes: Carolina dressed 11 forwards and seven defensemen, with Dylan Coghlan playing in his 10th game of the season. … Slavin had two assists, his third multipoint game since Dec. 20 after not having one in the first 31 games of the season. … Max Pacioretty missed his second straight game with an undisclosed lower-body injury.