A beautiful - really, beautiful - start led to a tragic downfall as the Cats, up 2-0 just after six minutes into the contest, unwound, falling behind 3-2 and never regaining the lead.
David Booth? High-freaking-light, out-of-your-seat goal to open the scoring. He was everywhere the entire game. They mostly all were, except for the "entire game" part. Until that first Carolina tagging. Then it was back on the heels, semi-defensive, utterly familiar stuff. DeBoer-style went Martin-style. Meaning no-style.
You could almost feel, through the unquestionably non-HD broadcast, the life slipping away and the Cats receding into last year. Or the year before. Or the one before that.
Granted, McCabe - who seemed to be logging lots of minutes, with several nifty offensive plays - was lost to what first appeared to be a leg injury during a check, though later he complained of back pains. But that wasn't the reason.
Bouwmeester was otherworldly, completely living up to his billing, with few mistakes. Always in motion, jumping into the play countless times...deep...and never did one feel he was out of his element staring down Cam Ward before firing on him from 10 feet, on the rush, defenders vainly attempting simply to keep pace. Gorgeous. Looked more comfortable down low in the offensive zone than several of the forwards. Sign. Him. ASAP. Or at least come January when you're allowed to. Just do it, JM...whatever it takes. One word: Bourque.
Pete DeBoer looked composed, if a bit nervous, at least to those of us who have watched him over the past few months. He's definitely - with a capital "D" - got this club on the right path, strategy-wise. The first ten minutes of the game were solid, undeniable proof. As a Panthers fan, I hadn't seen a more up-tempo, attack-the-opposition-at-all-costs, get-the-puck-out-of-the-defensive-zone-in-one-pass style of play since, well, Carolina, which is a terrific starting point. They out-Caned the Canes...until experience and breeding took command for the home team. The man knows his NHL hockey.
Who doesn't know NHL hockey? Many of his minions, and that's not a dig. The boys looked just flat worn out after the first ten minutes (see a pattern here?). As a serious observer of this club for four years, I can honestly declare that I have never witnessed a hungrier, more dedicated, athletic, and cohesive Panthers team than that which I saw in the first period. The downfall was so dramatic, so automatic - for a Cat fan - as to be almost funny.
The play drifted. The first 10 of the opening period featured play almost exclusively in Carolina's zone. Afterward? It migrated...to the wrong end...and stayed there, with increasing regularity. You could just see the loss coming.
Oh, there were a few heroes. Booth with his rapidly-stereotypical theater. Horton gave us hope late, with a goal and further inspired play. Late. Ballard was aggressive, The Beach steady. Dvorak figured rather prominently. Allen had some good, physical shows of force against the glass. McLean? Exactly as promised. Zednick? Hasn't lost a step.
Otherwise? Vokoun can be faulted for three of the five goals (one was an EN). Weiss was invisible. Belak (no fights) took two penalties, the first of which resulted in the Hurricanes' season-opening goal. Cory Murphy is out of his element (why now? No clue. I like the guy, but it ain't happening.)
Don't get me wrong: None of this applied before the end of the first period. It all went downhill THAT FAST. Of course, Carolina is an experienced, successful, disciplined hockey club, and that shined brightly through the remaining two periods. But it's rather telling that these issues did crop up, and as I said earlier to The Lovely Corrie, it's better to get your rear end handed to you now, instead of late March. DeBoer won't stand for it in either case.
Anyway, an entertaining game, if only because we're watching so many new elements coming together, trying to mesh, and become a cohesive whole. Even after a loss, the baby steps to legitimacy are kinda kewl to be a part of. All the new players, new coaches, new philosophies, strategies, etc. have to take their toll. The playoffs won't happen overnight.
Their entire on-ice formula has been changed in a matter of three weeks, with no games that counted, and plenty of younglings to clog the lineup. The situation will improve, and quickly.
Congrats to the Hurricanes for an inspired come-from-behind victory.