The better team won Sunday.
Unfortunately for the Carolina Hurricanes, that was the San Jose Sharks.
The Sharks, big enough and fast enough, put together 60 solid minutes at PNC Arena, coming away with a 3-1 victory over the Canes.
In the fourth game of a critical eight-game homestand, the Canes came up empty, much as they did Friday in losing to the Detroit Red Wings.
“They were better than us, better than us from the start of the game,” Canes coach Bill Peters said. “I was really disappointed in our compete (level) today. Disappointing effort and we got what we deserved.
“That effort today was unacceptable, period.”
Sebastian Aho scored another goal for the Canes, tying the score 1-1, but that didn’t help. The Sharks took the lead late in the first period and never lost it.
Canes forward Brock McGinn got in a hard hit on Sharks defenseman Brenden Dillon, then dropped the gloves and slugged it out when Dillon took offense with the hit. That didn’t help, either.
The Sharks, with backup goalie Aaron Dell getting the start and making 29 saves, controlled the flow and pace of the game, forechecking well, playing strong on the walls, getting quick sticks on pucks.
The Hurricanes (24-21-8) entered the game with 56 points, one point behind the Philadelphia Flyers, who held the Eastern Conference’s second wild-card playoff spot. The Flyers did not play Sunday – or the New York Islanders, who also have 57 points – but the Canes again could not win and move into playoff position.
The Canes host the Flyers on Tuesday, and Peters said there would be a different Carolina lineup, possibly with some players from the Charlotte Checkers of the AHL called up.
“You can’t put that group out again,” Peters said. “The effort and the intensity we played at was similar to something you probably see at a neutral-site game in September. I’m very disappointed in the way we played today, disappointed in some of the guys you can count on.”
Peters said his team were “skated” by the Wings in a 4-1 loss. That was in the second half of a back-to-back set for Carolina while the Wings were fresher and quicker, outskating the Canes.
Peters canceled a planned Saturday practice, hoping for fresher legs and more energy against the Sharks (28-16-8), who were playing without injured center Joe Thornton. The Canes were better after a lethargic first period Sunday, when they had just five shots on net, but could not muster a comeback on Super Bowl Sunday.
“I thought some guys were fast asleep at the start,” Peters said.
Aho scored his 19th of the season in the first. After a Sharks turnover, Jordan Staal found Aho open to Dell’s left and Aho buried the shot – the eighth goal in the past 10 games the Finnish forward has played.
But defensive breakdowns again were costly for the Canes, who had Cam Ward in net. Sharks forward Timo Meier was left unchecked in the slot and scored San Jose’s first goal. Late in the first, Chris Tierney was alone and scored his 13th with a backhander after four Canes players were caught jammed along the boards.
The third Sharks goal summed up the day – for the Sharks and Canes. Sharks defenseman Brent Burns chased down the puck near the blue line, turned and winged a shot through traffic for his ninth goal of the season.
Burns’ turn-and-burn shot was a stunner, and for the Canes a bit of a downer. Even McGinn’s fight with Dillon, when some big punches were thrown, couldn’t change the game momentum.
Peters changed up his lines after the disappointing first period, looking for offense. Nothing really clicked as the Sharks kept the Canes out of the middle of the ice and Dell got the job done.
The Canes opened the homestand with victories over Ottawa and Montreal. But things have turned sour.
Next up: the Flyers on Tuesday. Of the eight straight home games, that figures to be the biggest for the Canes.