DEVILS DEAL HURRICANES TOUGH-LUCK OVERTIME LOSS
By David DroschakCarolinaHurricanes.com
Losses at home have been rare indeed for the Carolina Hurricanes this season. It wasn't very hard to figure out why Tuesday night's 4-3 overtime defeat to the streaking New Jersey Devils was by far the most frustrating.
Equally stymied by future Hall of Fame goaltender Martin Brodeur and the referees late, the Hurricanes rallied to tie the score three times before Brian Gionta scored the power-play game-winner 28 seconds into OT as the Devils won their eighth straight.
New Jersey's win makes the playoff picture a bit clearer in the Eastern Conference for Carolina, which as the No. 1 or No. 2 seed will now likely play either Montreal or Tampa Bay in the first round. It was the first time this season the Hurricanes managed just one power play, while three third-period penalties, several of them questionable to coach Peter Laviolette and the Carolina players, ended up costing the Hurricanes dearly.
The most controversial call came against Justin Williams with 5:52 left in regulation and the score tied 2-2. Williams raced in behind the New Jersey net and made what appeared to be light contact with Brodeur, who had circled back to try to clear the puck. Brodeur fell down and Williams was called for tripping, a penalty he and Laviolette believe should have been called against Brodeur for interference.
New Jersey ended up scoring on the power play for a 3-2 lead as Rod Brind'Amour played for about a minute without his broken stick.
"It was a terrible call, absolutely terrible," Williams said. "I go behind the net to play the puck and he runs interference on me, falls down and they get a power play out of it. I have all the respect in the world for Marty Brodeur, but I don't think I warranted a penalty just because he fell down."
"It doesn't make any sense to me," Laviolette said. "There were a million hooks and holds that didn't get called out there tonight and to call some penalties that didn't exist or should have been flipped the other way I don't understand. It's very, very frustrating for our team. The game got taken away from the players and that's not the way it's supposed to be."
Matt Cullen was also called for a holding penalty after Laviolette had pulled Martin Gerber to try to get the tying goal, putting the Canes down a man for the final 1:28 of regulation. But after a time out, Gerber was pulled again and Eric Staal was able to pound home his 45th goal on the 5-on-5 to inch within three points of 100 in the season.
While Staal's late goal sent the RBC Center crowd into hysterics, it wasn't long before New Jersey cashed in on the rest of Cullen's penalty early in OT to snatch the win.
After a season of new rules that helped open the game up offensively and a crack down on obstruction, some Carolina players now believe less and less is being called as playoff time approaches.
"Overall, things have changed quite a bit the last few weeks," said Mark Recchi, whose 28th goal and 484th of his career midway through the third period tied the score at 2-2. "I think we all figured that was going to happen."
Laviolette was asked about the officiating several times in his post game and he asked to change the subject several times.
"It seems like we had a stick on us all night and we had one power play," Laviolette said. "I don't know what to explain to the players because somebody is going to have to explain it to me."
The overtime loss leaves Carolina one point behind Ottawa with three games left in the race for No. 1 in the East.
"I have no problem with the way we played tonight, but I've got a problem with the result," Laviolette said. "I thought we were a little bit soft defensively at times and it cost us, but as far as effort and what we were trying to do I liked it."
Carolina didn't get its first power play until there was 1:33 left in the second period, coming one minute after Gerber misplayed a John Madden shot with his blocker that trickled into the net for a 2-1 New Jersey lead. But the Hurricanes managed just one shot on Brodeur and began the third period trailing for just the 29th time this season.
New Jersey scored on its first shot just 1:28 into the game on a 4-on-2 break. But Craig Adams tied it at 1-1 midway through the first as he became the 11th Carolina player to score at least 10 goals this season by beating Brodeur on a rebound shot.