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Despite a recent road trip that saw the Carolina Hurricanes win two of their three games, they could not escape their slow starts. Thanks only to some stellar play by goaltenders Anton Khudobin in Columbus and Cam Ward in Winnipeg, the ‘Canes did manage to secure two victories and keep their faint playoff hopes intact. Tuesday night, however, their luck finally caught up to them.

At the second media timeout, just eleven minutes into the first period, the Hurricanes trailed the New York Islanders by four and looked every bit as disinterested as the suddenly stunned crowd, many of whom decided to make an early night of it. Though the deserters missed a valiant comeback attempt, the result still stood, and the ‘Canes dropped a 5-4 decision.

“It’s unexplainable, at this point,” Jay Harrison said. “The feeling we had, the effort we had been bringing. That’s not our game. That’s not our preparation. We clearly weren’t ready to go. And that’s unacceptable.”

“The effort and the preparation have to be better. There’s no excuse and there’s no secret recipe. That’s the bottom line.”

On the season, the Hurricanes have been outscored by 24 in the first period alone, one of the worst figures in the league. But it’s not the 61 goals they give up that are concerning, it’s the 37 they’ve scored — fewer than any team except Buffalo.

“The problem is we feel like we’ve been stressing it,” Harrison said. “It’s not like we haven’t realized that our starts haven’t been great, and we would be having a lot more success if we played the first period like we’ve been playing in the second and third, which makes it more perplexing.”

The opening two goals by Colin McDonald and Cal Clutterbuck came on virtually identical plays — a lost faceoff, a deflected shot from the point, poorly contained traffic in front, and a loose rebound put home. In an attempt to stop the bleeding, Kirk Muller used his timeout to calm everyone down. Forty-five seconds later, McDonald scored his second of the game on another defensive breakdown, which came to be the theme of the night.

In a final attempt to spark something, anything, Muller lifted Ward for Khudobin. It took only three Islanders shots before they moved the margin to four with Matt Martin poking in a rebound that Khudobin couldn’t find.

The ‘Canes added goals by Jeff Skinner on the powerplay and Andrei Loktionov’s finish on a breakaway before the end of the period, but as has been the case many times before, the hole was too tough to climb.

If this sounds like the last five seasons in a nutshell, it’s because it is. The Hurricanes continue to come out of the gate sluggish, drag their feet for entirely too long, then decide to put forth effort when it’s too late. Talented teams have thrown away playoff spots that were up for grabs, and have twice gotten embarrassed on home ice in win-and-in scenarios.

“The accountability within the room is coming to a point where this can’t be tolerated,” Harrison said. “The reflection has to come within the room to a man. That can be said through yelling or talking or any type of communication. But it needs to be said. We can’t do that. It’s unacceptable and it’s unprofessional.”

True to form, the Hurricanes notched two more goals in the final two periods, but yielded Martin’s game-winner after both Justin Faulk and Andrej Sekera failed to win their battles. Ryan Strome outworked Faulk in the corner and fed Martin, alone in front, who easily beat Khudobin.

Carolina’s top pairing combined to go minus 7, and put on display one of their worst performances of the season. But they weren’t alone: Eric Staal played just 15:57 — lowest total in a game where he wasn’t hurt since April 2011 —  and rewarded his coach with no points and a minus 3.

The Hurricanes came up short, and their best players weren’t their best players. Whatever cliche can be applied to Tuesday night can be re-written to fit another failed season.

The summer of 2014 will be one to watch closely. It’s expected that Jim Rutherford will step down as general manager, and Kirk Muller may not survive his new boss’ probable house cleaning. But the players in the room are the most accountable.

“We’re professional athletes, and we want to go out there and play every game like it’s our last and we’re playing for our lives, which we are. In this business you’re only as good as your last game. As a team, it’s the same. And we have that pride in this room to go out there and play the best we can and win the games that we should win. And put the effort that we can put forward. And nothing short of that will be acceptable.”

At this point, the blame lies with everyone. Short of a complete change in culture, why should any different be expected in the winter of 2014?

About The Author

Andrew Luistro graduated from Appalachian State University. An avid sports fan, he began beat writing for the Sunbelt Hockey Journal, part of The Hockey Writers Network, with a focus on the Carolina Hurricanes. Andrew also actively follows the Boston Red Sox and Carolina Panthers, among other teams. Follow him on Twitter @ndrewL7