RALEIGH — The Toronto Maple Leafs may not have looked like surefire Stanley Cup contenders Tuesday, but the Carolina Hurricanes continue to look like a team that can’t get over the hump and enter the playoff conversation.
The Leafs scored twice in the first half of the third period and coasted to a 4-1 win over the Hurricanes in front of 11,907 on Tuesday at PNC Arena.
“Right now, we’re not committed enough to doing it every single time we’re out there,” Hurricanes captain Justin Williams, who scored Carolina’s lone goal, said. “And that was a frustrating one because we were right there, as I said, and just (not) giving quite enough.”
That seemed particularly true of defenseman Dougie Hamilton, who was on the ice for all of Toronto’s goals and posted the first minus-4 of his career.
After Williams tied the game on the power play thanks to a nice feed from Sebastian Aho, Hamilton redirected the eventual game-winner into his own net. He then turned the puck over and seemed to give up on the backcheck as a 2-on-1 developed that extended the lead to two.
“Well, he’s got to be better. There’s no question, in my opinion,” coach Rod Brind’Amour said when asked about Hamilton’s play since coming over from Calgary this offseason. “I think he knows it. We’ve talked about it. He’s supposed to be one of our best defensemen and we expect more. … He needs to play hard away from the puck, too, and be better. Because right now our margin is tight. We know that.”
The Maple Leafs dominated the first and opened the scoring in the eighth minute of the game when Tyler Ennis picked up a rebound and flipped the puck into the open net for a 1-0 Toronto lead.
Carolina bounced back in the second, deftly killing off a Hamilton penalty, then immediately drawing a call on Toronto defenseman Ron Hainsey. On the power play, Aho feathered a pass to a streaking Williams, who wristed the puck past Leafs goalie Frederik Andersen (29 saves) for his second goal in as many games and a tie at 12:44 of the second.
The Leafs quickly answered, however, when — on a delayed penalty — a Morgan Rielly pass redirected off Hamilton’s stick and past Petr Mrazek (25 saves) to restore the one-goal lead just 67 seconds later.
“We lost some battles on the walls, and on the second goal it really just, I think, deflated us,” Brind’Amour said. “We had just tied it up. We need to have good shifts after scoring.”
Hamilton then turned the puck over at the Toronto blue line and couldn’t get back to prevent a 2-on-1, with William Nylander finding Patrick Marleau for the Leafs third goal.
“The third one kind of just broke our backs,” Brind’Amour said. “I felt like, you just feel the bench go (exhales), kind of. We’re having a tough time scoring right now, so I think they just felt like that was it, and obviously it was.”
Carolina spoiled a good effort by Mrazek, who got the Hurricanes out of the first period with just a one-goal deficit. But the team’s scoring woes combined with defensive mistakes proved too much to overcome.
“I told him we’d get him some, and we didn’t,” Williams said of not giving Mrazek any goal support. “So I feel we let him down, yeah.”
Notes: Jordan Staal missed his second game with a concussion. … Micheal Ferland, in his first game back from a concussion after missing four games, left in the first period and did not return. … Andrei Svechnikov played a career-high 19:24. …Nylander, in his third game since his contract impasse ended, had two assists and six penalty minutes. Four of those minutes came on a first period high stick to Carolina defenseman Calvin de Haan, who rushed to the room while streaming blood from above his eye and onto the ice. De Haan returned for the second period after being stitched up.