Carolina Hurricanes: 5 Most Painful Losses of the 2011-2012 Season
There's been no better word to describe the Carolina Hurricanes' 2011-2012 campaign than that one.
The 'Canes, now realistically eliminated from the fringe of the playoff hunt, have just six games remaining in a season that will likely be remembered as an agonizing sacrifice for a better future.
Indeed, many good things have come from this nearly-concluded season—the hiring of Kirk Muller, the emergence of youngsters like Justin Faulk and a clearer blueprint for next year's playoff-contending squad.
But nonetheless, few years have been more painful for Caniacs than this one. Their beloved Hurricanes have blown leads, failed comeback attempts and, most prominently, crumbled under pressure night in and night out.
Carolina's 3-9 overtime record and 0-6 overtime accord are both league worsts, and those numbers only scratch the tip of the iceberg. The frustration caused as a result has been overwhelming, but the achy sorrow of the past five and a half months has been utterly indescribable.
Looking back through the calendar, it's impossible to rightly condense the 2011-2012 season's misfortune into five specific games. The dull pain experienced throughout the Hurricanes' hockey universe has been far more everlasting than that.
But we'll give it a try anyway. Grab a few tissues, prepare to resist the urge to smash something and relive five nights of heartbreak that are sure to leave you in a bad mood for the rest of the week.
Honorable Mention: Season Opener Disaster vs. Tampa Bay
While few could label the 'Canes horrendous season opener a heartbreaking moment, there's little doubt that a 5-1 drumming at the hands of the Tampa Bay Lightning—who had denied Carolina a playoff berth in the team's final game the previous April—was anything short of a catastrophe.
Jeff Skinner's first-period goal kept the Hurricanes ahead well into the second period, but after falling behind 2-1 at the second intermission, a horrendous third-period meltdown inflated the score into the embarrassing range.
Steve Downie's goal with 7:38 remaining took all of the life out of the building, yet Adam Hall's tally just 10 seconds later is a highlight that many Caniacs still haven't managed to drive out of their minds.
In the end, however, this hard-to-swallow performance only foreshadowed an extremely rough season to come.
5. Meltdown in the Motor City
In most normal instances, a one-goal loss to the Detroit Red Wings—in "The Joe", no less—would be a moral victory for a far inferior Hurricanes team.
But the Wings were on a six-game losing streak, while the 'Canes had won four of their last five games. And with four minutes left in the second period, Carolina was leading by a decisive score of 4-1.
Until it all fell apart.
Detroit caught fire late in the second, as Henrik Zetterberg and Todd Bertuzzi scored 18 seconds apart to cut the deficit to one and then goals from Jiri Hudler and Drew Miller put the Red Wings over the top in the third period.
The Hurricanes scarcely even possessed the puck for the game's final 25 minutes, much less had an opportunity to halt the oncoming tide of Detroit Red Wing firepower. After all, they were out-shot 19-3 in the third period.
Their only option was to sit back and watch two invaluable points slowly slip away.
4. The Blown Call of the Year
If it was possible, the title of this slide should be bracketed by tens of thousands of quotation marks.
And so did a furious mob of angry fans from across the hockey world.
The NHL and referee Tim Peel, who obviously was missing his contacts on that evening of February 8th, didn't say anything, though. The matter was left to be simply forgotten in time, and Peel continued his regular duties as a league referee—at least for the time being.
Anaheim forward and defending Hart Trophy winner Corey Perry had a rather unusual response, however, to the incident.
He said, thank you.
3. Boiling over in the Bell Centre
The term, "Paul Maurice hockey," could be epitomized no better than by the Hurricanes' unspeakably atrocious effort in a November 16th visit to the Montreal Canadiens' Bell Centre.
Carolina was throttled 4-0 on the scoreboard. They managed just five attempts on goal in six power-play opportunities. At the mid-point of the game, their shot total stood at a measly five. Even the Habs' goalie, Carey Price had recorded an assist by then.
The 'Canes jaw-droppingly awful on-ice performance may have been outdone by their second intermission locker room outburst, however.
Captain Eric Staal and then-coach Paul Maurice stomped out of the room well before the rest of the team, shouts and curses could be heard from down the hallway and half of Cam Ward's stick nearly beheaded FS-Carolinas TV reporter Bob Harwood while standing outside the door.
Maurice didn't restrain from letting loose in the post-game interviews, telling the media, "I can give you a whole list of excuses, but nobody wants to hear them and you can't put any stock in them. We were just so damn slow we couldn't do anything."
And, as proved by his firing a little over two weeks later, the Hurricanes weren't putting any more stock in him, either, and for good reason.
2. The Last-Second Calamity in Colorado
The Hurricanes' exciting overtime contest in Colorado, a city where the franchise is still searching for its first win, was already heading to a shootout in the minds of many.
At least until Justin Faulk decided to make some magic in the closing seconds.
He surely envisioned a streak of back-breaking dekes, a rocket-launcher slap shot, a red light flashing on above the goal and a heroic spotlight on his face. There were only eight seconds left; what was the risk? Why shouldn't he make a run at the goal himself? Why couldn't he find his way through all five Avalanche defenders?
Well, in fact, that epic string of events was actually part of Carolina's upcoming fate. Just probably not in the way young Faulk imagined.
Fellow youngster Ryan O'Reilly, whom Cam Ward had stoned an uncountable number of times earlier in the tilt, stripped Faulk of the puck with six seconds left.
O'Reilly crossed the Hurricane blue line and first glanced towards the goal with four seconds left.
Ward clapped his glove and blocker together, pushed out to the top of his goal crease, and found his usual butterfly position with three seconds left.
O'Reilly entered the faceoff circle, reared back his stick, shifted his weight to his left skate and unleashed his own bullet of a slap shot with two seconds left.
A three-inch wide slice of vulcanized rubber crossed the 'Canes goal line, ricocheted off of the goal cam and sent a sellout's worth of Avalanche fans, players and staff into a frenzied celebration with 1.8 seconds left.
Halfway across the country, an enormous collective groan could be heard vaguely echoing throughout the state of North Carolina. The 'Canes had lost in overtime, again.
Note: Adapted from a previous article by the same author.
1. The "Roughing the Goaltender" Madness of March 3rd
Tim Peel struck the Carolina Hurricanes again, less than a month later, during an intense, hard-fought showdown between the desperate 'Canes and aforementioned Tampa Bay Lightning.
Thanks to a big night from fourth-liner Anthony Stewart and solid play in goal from Cam Ward, Carolina held a 3-1 lead late in the second period.
But Steven Stamkos pulled the Bolts within one before the intermission, and then Teddy Purcell tied the game midway through the final frame after several questionable penalty calls gave Tampa a very extended power play/5-on-3 opportunity.
None of that compared to what was to come, however.
Just over a minute into overtime, Brandon Sutter, rushing towards the net on a fast break, found himself on a direct collision course with Tampa Bay goalie Matheiu Garon. Sutter attempted a dramatic leap over top, but a subtle shove from Stamkos, trailing slightly behind the play, sent Sutter into Garon in a glorious collision.
Referees Tim Peel and Francois St. Laurent called a "roughing" penalty on the play. Brandon Sutter was directed into the penalty box.
One minute and thirty-five seconds later, Steven Stamkos scored an easy tap-in goal to wrap up the Bolts' 4-on-3 advantage, as well as the game itself.
And as the 18,000 fans angrily filed out of the arena in the ensuing hour, a boisterous chant of "Ref, you suck" failed to falter.
The pain of just plain losing is bad enough. But nothing can rival the heartbreak of having the game decided by a blown call.