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For the Hurricanes, this frustrating loss could be a turning point, one way or the other

The bright spot was an absolutely magical goal from Andrei Svechnikov on an otherwise pedestrian night for the Carolina Hurricanes, and that’s kind of how the season as a whole is starting to look. As the No. 2 pick in the draft continues to blossom, the Hurricanes continue to spin their wheels.

Thursday’s 4-1 loss to the Detroit Red Wings, as unforgivable as a loss to the Arizona Coyotes would have been Sunday, was all too familiar. So familiar that it may be a tipping point for this team, with a lengthy team meeting afterward that left several players slumped in their lockers.

They talked about mental toughness, about resilience, about sticking to the game plan, all of which was lacking in this loss. The postgame conversation Thursday reset the expectations going forward. Now it’s up to the Hurricanes to figure out whether they can meet them.

“I’m kind of at a loss for words,” said Hurricanes forward Jordan Martinook, the last player to remove his skates and take off his gear. “It was frustrating to see. Parts of that game, we obviously dominated, and then you take your foot off the gas and it’s 2-1.”

Rod Brind’Amour was exasperated after the game with players trying to do too much, make great plays instead of simple ones, turning the puck over instead of getting it up the ice. The Hurricanes aren’t built to run and gun. They’re built to compress the game into the opposition’s end and grind out goals.

He’s convinced they’re capable. Nights like this one are less than convincing.

“I’ve seen it against all the good teams,” Brind’Amour said. “When we do it right, we’re fine.”

All of this was underlined by the Red Wings scoring all three of their non-empty-net goals on shots from the point with traffic in front – the first went straight in, the second was tipped past Petr Mrazek at the last second, the third went off Trevor van Riemsdyk.

“The puck is going to the net,” Martinook said, “and we’re going away from it.”

Carolina’s only goal was a supernova of individual skill from Svechnikov, his 10th and most impressive of the season: an elite piece of finishing, a quick-trigger shot from the right wing that was whistling past Jonathan Bernier’s left ear to make it 1-1 before he knew it was there. There are a few players in the league who can pick their spot like that, and maybe a few others who can get lucky with it, and Svechnikov is in the former group.

The pressure on Svechnikov and Sebastian Aho to score is intense, because no one else is with any consistency right now, which is at the root of the Hurricanes’ issues, and their frustration.

“We’re not tough enough,” Hurricanes captain Justin Williams said. “We dominate stretches of games and we feel, and presumably we’re right, that we should be leading. We’re not mentally tough enough, when things don’t go our way, to stick with it.”

This isn’t the first time this conversation has happened, but it may be the last time it matters. While they’re far from out of the playoff chase, with still more than half the season still to go, they can’t keep losing games like this.

Thursday wasn’t the end, but if the Hurricanes don’t buy into and live up to what was said in the dressing room, starting this weekend against the Pittsburgh Penguins and Boston Bruins, this could be the beginning of the end.

Sports columnist Luke DeCock has covered the Summer Olympics, the Final Four, the Super Bowl and the Carolina Hurricanes’ Stanley Cup. He joined The News & Observer in 2000 to cover the Hurricanes and the NHL before becoming a columnist in 2008. A native of Evanston, Ill., he graduated from the University of Pennsylvania and has won multiple national and state awards for his columns and feature writing while twice being named North Carolina Sportswriter of the Year.

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