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Carolina Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour was blunt Monday in assessing a 4-2 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning.
The Canes can’t win playing 40 good minutes of hockey, he said, let alone knock off the 2020 Stanley Cup champion.
Oddly, the game Monday at PNC Arena had the Canes (12-4-1) chasing the Lightning throughout the first period, yet leading 1-0 when it was over. Jesper Fast scored his first goal as a Hurricane just after a Carolina power play ended, banging in a rebound of a Martin Necas shot, and the Canes went to the locker room with the lead.
“Obviously we weren’t ready to go from the start,” Brind’Amour said. “They’re the Stanley Cup champs and they took it to us in the first period and we were fortunate to be ahead.
“We were scrambling, that’s for sure. We had a game plan going in and that goes out the window and everybody basically is off. That happens. It’s not that much. It can be a little bit from every guy, but when every guy is just that much (off) that’s what it looks like in the first period.”
The Lightning (11-4-1), shut out by the Canes in their first two meetings this season, continued to push and probe and keep the pressure on goalie James Reimer and the Canes defense. Tampa Bay was a half-step quicker than the Canes, and two of its biggest stars soon gave the Lightning the lift they needed.
Steven Stamkos blasted a shot past Reimer on the power play early in the second -- Tampa Bay’s first goal against Carolina in 178:19 stretching back to last season. Defenseman Victor Hedman, always an offensive threat, then wristed a shot high to the blocker side to give the Lightning a 2-1 lead.
Fast scored again for the Canes in the final minute of the second and also had the biggest collision of the period, sending Tampa Bay’s Erik Cernak sailing into the Canes bench. That set up an intense third period that had the Canes’ Brock McGinn absorb a big hit.
Ondrej Palat finally pushed Tampa Bay ahead at 8:04, winning a battle with defenseman Brady Skjei around the crease and getting off a shot that glanced off Skjei and past Reimer.
Alex Killorn’s empty-netter clinched it as the two teams now go to Tampa for two games.
After Nedeljkovic shut out Tampa Bay 4-0 on Saturday, there were questions whether he might start again Monday. Reimer got the nod, instead, and weathered the first period, making saves with every part of his body, before the Lightning broke through.
Andrei Vasilevskiy earned his 10th win of the season in net for the Lightning with 34 saves, facing 17 shots in the third.
“The second and third periods we were right there with them if not even better,” Brind’Amour said. “We had the bulk of the chances in the third but we probably got what we deserved. You’ve got to pay a 60-minute game.”
The Lightning effectively shut down the Canes’ top line -- Sebastian Aho and Brock McGinn did not have a shot on goal and Andrei Svechnikov had two shots on a mostly quiet night. Rookie defenseman Jake Bean, making a fifth straight start, had a game-high seven of the Canes’ 36 shots as his comfort level grows.
“You’ve got to play a complete game against a team like this and we didn’t do that,” Fast said.