RALEIGH — The Carolina Hurricanes had a fairy tale ending at their fingertips. Or more appropriately, on their sticks.
In the final 40 seconds of 3-on-3 overtime against the Philadelphia Flyers on Tuesday at PNC Arena, co-captains Jordan Staal, Justin Faulk and alternate captain Jeff Skinner were all on the ice together, ready to provide the proverbial leadership — the desperation — their coach, Bill Peters, had begged for following an “unacceptable” effort Sunday at home against the Sharks.
It was there twice for Skinner — once on a slap shot kicked away by Flyers goalie Brian Elliott, then again on a backhand seconds later with Elliott down and out that Philadelphia captain Claude Giroux slid to block. Sandwiched between Skinner’s chances was Staal, slapping a rebound of Skinner’s first attempt, only to see a scrambling Elliott bat it away with the paddle of his stick.
Then it was over.
Philadelphia’s Jordan Weal got the puck in the neutral zone with 10 seconds remaining and curled past the red line and up ice, entering the Carolina zone, cutting to the middle on Hurricanes forward Brock McGinn and zipping a low shot through Cam Ward’s pads for the winner with 3.1 seconds left.
The 2-1 result gave the Flyers the needed extra point in the standings, while the Hurricanes — and the majority of the 11,585 at PNC Arena — left with one point and another agonizing loss.
“I think there obviously isn’t much separation,” Staal said. “It was a tight game and it could have gone either way in overtime.”
Peters had called on his team to be desperate in a key playoff race matchup against a Metropolitan Division foe. Surely that was the same message from Flyers coach Dave Hakstol.
Instead, both coaches got what looked like a safe effort from their teams, with both squads more afraid to make a big mistake than a game-changing play.
Peters, when asked if he saw the desperation he sought from his 19 players on the ice, said he didn’t like the final score but approved of his team’s play.
“I think so. I thought it was real good,” Peters said of his team’s urgency. “I thought it was a very competitive game. Very, very competitive. I was very obviously happy with the effort, not in love with the end result.”
It wasn’t a very competitive third period, with Carolina registering just two shots to Philadelphia’s seven, many of which came in the game’s final five minutes with the Hurricanes holding on for dear life.
Overtime, however, belonged to the home team.
The safe style that prevailed for much of the night is not conducive to 3-on-3 overtime, and Carolina had the upper hand with six of the extra session’s first seven shots. The last one, however, spoiled an otherwise stellar outing from Ward (28 saves), who anchored Carolina’s 5-for-5 penalty kill and was impenetrable late in the third with the Hurricanes hemmed in their own end.
While Ward was on his game early, the rest of the Hurricanes didn’t have the start they were looking for, doing nothing with an early power play and generating little offense.
Carolina did catch a break 12 minutes into the first when Flyers rookie Nolan Patrick was called for a four-minute high sticking double-minor to put the home team back on a long man-advantage.
The Hurricanes needed the bonus two minutes — upon review, Patrick probably deserved just a single minor for elbowing — spending 2:28 in the offensive zone and finally scoring when Teuvo Teravainen fed the puck to the goal mouth and Elias Lindholm scored on his second chance for his 15th goal and a 1-0 lead 15 minutes into the game.
The Hurricanes then took three of the game’s next four penalties, but shut down the Flyers’ potent power play.
But with 3:17 remaining in the second period, the Flyers tied it when Wayne Simmonds converted extended zone time by Philadelphia into a goal. Simmonds got position on Trevor van Riemsdyk in front of Ward and stuffed the puck in for his 18th goal of the year.
From there it was a grind for the Hurricanes, who needed to kill off a penalty halfway through the third period and then survive the Flyers’ onslaught at the end of regulation.
It set up an overtime where Peters relied on Skinner — often overlooked at 3-on-3 during the coach’s tenure — and saw it nearly pay off when the struggling goal scorer made a beautiful steal at center ice to begin the sequence that nearly led to the winning goal.
The storybook ending, however, was not to be.
“It’s tough to win when you score only one goal,” Lindholm said. “Wardo’s been playing unbelievable for us, and (it’s) too bad we can’t help him with a win and score more goals for him.”
Notes: The out-of-town scoreboard was mostly kind to the Hurricanes — both Columbus and New Jersey lost in regulation, while the first-place Capitals won (over the Blue Jackets) and surging Pittsburgh knocked off Vegas. The Flyers’ two points moved them past Columbus (58 points) for the first wild card spot at 59 points. The Islanders and Hurricanes are both on the outside looking in at 58 and 57 points, respectively, and one fewer game left to play. The Rangers, at 53 points and with a game in hand on the two teams in front of them, were idle and at 55 points. … Marcus Kruger, Haydn Fleury and Josh Jooris were scratched for Carolina. … Mark Alt, a veteran of nine NHL games who was drafted in the second round by the Hurricanes in 2010 and later traded to Philadelphia, was one of two Flyers scratches.