Hurricanes can’t solve Lightning, drop third straight to defending champs

Lightning defenseman Mikhail Sergachev celebrates his goal against the Hurricanes with defenseman Victor Hedman during Tampa Bay’s 3-1 home win Thursday. (Chris O’Meara / AP Photo)

The Hurricanes’ seemingly never-ending series of games against the Lightning came to an end Thursday with Tampa Bay winning 3-1 at home to take three of four from Carolina.

Brett Pesce had the lone goal for Carolina, and Yanni Gourde’s deflected shot beat James Reimer with under 14 minutes left in the game and turned out to be the deciding goal.

Three Thoughts

1. The Hurricanes finished their four-game stretch against the Lightning with just one win, but coach Rod Brind’Amour was happy with his team’s overall performance over the past six days.

“It’s unfortunate we didn’t get results,” he said. “I thought, for the most part, four games, it could have went either way in pretty much every game.”

Take away the empty-net goals for both sides, and the Lightning outscored Carolina 7-6 during the four games.

2. It’s a good day to cash in your stock in Fox 40. No, that’s not a TV station — it’s the company that provides the NHL officials with their whistles. The refs called 12 minor penalties Thursday night, and the game felt disjointed and lacked flow because of it. It was a shame that a four-game set that has seen both teams showcase what makes them Stanley Cup contenders ended with a fizzle — or rather, a whistle.

“It is hard, hard to keep everybody engaged, maybe,” Brind’Amour said of the penalties resulting in lots of special teams play. “But that’s the same for both teams. You’d like to see more flow, obviously, but that’s not the way went.”

Both teams were 0-for-5 on the power play, a result that, if different for either team, could have changed the game dramatically.

“Our penalty kill was good, so good job on that, but our power play needs to be better,” Sebastian Aho said.

3. The Hurricanes leave the series perhaps a little humbled but not running to the airport with their tails between their legs. Carolina is still 12-6-1 despite only having No. 1 goalie Petr Mrazek for 182 minutes this season and losing the last three while without Teuvo Teravainen.

The Lightning aren’t injury-free by any means — Nikita Kucherov hasn’t played this season and Anthony Cirelli is out with an upper-body injury — but it’s worth noting the Lightning would be way over the cap if Kucherov were able to play.

The point is, the Hurricanes are still right there with the top teams in the NHL, and they’ll get a chance at redemption with two games in Florida against this season’s surprise team, the 13-4-2 Panthers.

“It doesn’t get any easier,” Brind’Amour said. “Now we got Florida, and they’re playing great. … There’s no easy night, and we got a taste of that here this week. Obviously, that’s a tough week for us, but I just think the guys are down right now because they played really hard and deserved a better outcome. I asked a lot of them tonight, and I thought they rose to the occasion.

“We had a couple guys who could be better, for sure,” he continued. “But overall, I can’t be unhappy with the way we played tonight.”

Number To Know

0 — Shots on goal for Dougie Hamilton, the second time this season he’s been held without one after his 296-game streak was snapped earlier this season. His new streak lasted just 15 games, and he was credited with six shot attempts (four blocked, two missed).

They Said It

“That’s a great team. I mean, there’s a reason why they are defending champions, and the games were hard. But that’s how it should be. It’s tough games and two good teams competing out there.”

— Sebastian Aho, Hurricanes center

Plus

Brett Pesce, Hurricanes defenseman — Pesce continues to be Carolina’s best overall defenseman this season. He scored the game’s only goal, his second of the year, by jumping into the play and finishing off a pass from Jesper Fast to give the Hurricanes a 1-0 lead at 14:23 of the first. For the game, Pesce also had team-highs in shots on goal (4), shot attempts (7), blocked shots (3) and time on ice (23:49).

Minus

James Reimer, Hurricanes goalie — When they were winning, the Hurricanes were scoring goals in buckets and getting key saves. They didn’t get either Thursday in Tampa, and Reimer (19 saves) allowed a soft goal on Lightning defenseman Mikhail Sergachev just past the game’s midway point and was later beat on a deflected shot from a wide angle that rattled in over his right shoulder.

Goal support is certainly very important, but to beat a team like the Lightning the Hurricanes need as few mistakes as possible, and the two goals he allowed — certainly the first — opened the door for Tampa Bay.