RALEIGH — The Hurricanes dropped their second straight game heading into the league-mandated five-day bye week, losing 4-1 to Calgary in front of 15,218 at PNC Arena.
Carolina’s problems, however, could extend well past next Friday after star forward Sebastian Aho left the game following a blindside hit from Flames captain Mark Giordano.
With Carolina trailing by two goals early in the third, Aho cut to the middle of the ice in the Flames zone and Giordano connected with his chin, sending the second-year player sliding across the ice. Aho also absorbed a knee-on-knee hit on the play that had him hobbling to get off the ice with assistance.
“I was surprised he continued on with the puck, to be honest with you,” Hurricanes coach Bill Peters said of Aho. “I thought he was in a real good spot to shoot it, and then he continued on. And then, obviously, there’s some head contact. I don’t know if there’s much intent, to be honest with you. His arm was tucked in low, but it ended up catching him in the head.”
Peters said Aho was being evaluated for both the hit to the head and his knee.
Giordano, who fought with Carolina winger Justin Williams after the hit, was given a match penalty for the hit. The ensuing five-minute power play was mostly wiped away by Hurricanes penalties — Williams received a two-minute instigator, then Jordan Staal was called for a phantom high stick, two nights after he had his lip split, uncalled, in the last minute of Carolina’s game with Washington, allowing the Capitals the chance to score and win the game with 1.3 seconds remaining.
“You know what happened, he didn’t hit him,” Peters said of the high stick call on Staal. “… He gets cuts the night before right in front of the ref and legitimately, right? High stick, doesn’t get called. And then that’s a phantom call, so that’s disappointing because that’s on that sequence of when we’re going to have a three-minute power play that we never got.”
During the 4-on-4 play with Carolina trailing by two, Brock McGinn hit the post and the goal horn went off. But play continued, and the Flames added an insurance goal when Johnny Gaudreau fed Dougie Hamilton for the second time in the game to push Calgary’s lead to three 3:17 into the third.
“It’s definitely a tough break,” McGinn said. “I think we thought it was in there, and I think we kind of stopped a bit. That’s just a tough break for us, but we’ve got to bounce back.”
The Hurricanes dug themselves a hole by allowing two goals in the first period.
First, defenseman Justin Faulk attempted a cross-ice pass to partner Jaccob Slavin, but mishit the puck and the Flames went the other way. Curtis Lazar then got wide on Faulk to create an odd-man chance, and Matt Stajan scored his first of the year to make it 1-0 at 6:01 of the first.
The Flames extended their lead to two when they caught the Hurricanes looking to make a line change. Gaudreau came away with the puck and saucered a pass to Hamilton in the slot, who one-timed it past Carolina goalie Scott Darling (26 saves) with 73 seconds left in the opening period.
“It looked like we were on a break already,” Staal said. “It looked like the guys weren’t mentally ready and physically the legs weren’t there. But we’ve gotta be smarter if they aren’t, gotta find ways to get them back quicker and get into the game, and we didn’t do that tonight.”
An insurance goal by Matthew Tkachuk on the power play gave the Flames a four-goal cushion with less than seven minutes remaining.
Lee Stempniak got his second point in as many games this season, scoring with 4:31 remaining on the power play to break up a shutout by Calgary goalie Mike Smith (38 saves).
“The reports back, the two from our strength coach and our assistant coaches, is that this guy has put in some serious time here, and he’s done a good job,” Peters said of Stempniak. “He looks quicker, to be honest with you. I think he’s picked up a little bit of a half step, maybe a step.”
There wasn’t much else, however, Peters was happy with.
“I haven’t seen some guys play like that ever,” he said.
The Hurricanes will have five days to mull it over.
“It’s definitely leaving a sour taste in our mouth,” McGinn said. “We’re definitely going to think about these games over the break and I think we just gotta come back stronger.”
Notes: Giordano will have a mandatory disciplinary hearing with the NHL as a result of his match penalty. Giordano’s only previous discipline from the league came in 2013 when he was fined $10,000 for slew-footing Dallas forward Antonie Roussel. … Williams’ fight was his second of the season, the first time in career he’s had more than one fight in a season. He had six career fights coming into 2017-18, three of which came during his first stint in Carolina. … Elias Lindholm won 11 of 14 faceoffs. … McGinn led all players with six shots and earned an assist. … Faulk was a game-worst minus-3.