RALEIGH, N.C. — Anze Kopitar’s expression — a quick flash of frustration — essentially spoke for a team still searching for its first road win of the season.
The Kings center with world-class skills had a brilliant opportunity in close to tie the score with 3:11 remaining. But he was denied by Carolina goalie Cam Ward’s pad, and the Hurricanes held on to defeat the Kings, 3-2, on Sunday night at PNC Arena.
“I don’t know, I just got too excited, really,” Kopitar said. “If I would have pulled it back two feet, and just tried to get it up. I don’t think he could have got his pad there in time.
“I saw an open net and got too excited and tried to stuff it in, and he made a good save.”
Carolina, which had been winless until Saturday night, held leads of 2-0 and 3-1, sparked by Ward’s 30 saves and goals by rookie Victor Rask (his first in the NHL), Chris Terry on the power play and youngster Elias Lindholm. Scoring for the Kings were center Mike Richards, on the power play, and defenseman Alec Martinez.
The Kings are 0-3-2 on the road this season and have dropped three straight games in regulation on this trip. Kopitar played nearly 20 minutes and had two shots on goal and was even, in terms of plus-minus rating.
This was Kopitar’s first game after missing the first three on the trip because of an upper-body injury, and he was joined by his linemate Marian Gaborik, whose return was a surprise. Gaborik and Kopitar had not been on the ice together since Oct. 12.
Gaborik, who was unavailable afterward, played 13:49 and had one shot on goal. He, too, had been out with an upper-body injury, re-aggravating a training camp injury.
Kings Coach Darryl Sutter thought the turn of events in the first minute of the second period was “the difference in the game.” Kings forward Justin Williams went off for hooking and Terry scored 25 seconds later on the power play to make it 2-0.
“We have trouble scoring, just about every mistake you make is magnified,” Sutter said.
He evaluated Kopitar and Gaborik, saying Kopitar looked strong killing penalties and noted that Gaborik hadn’t played since early in October.
“I thought he [Kopitar] had his moments, and I’m sure he’s going to tell you that too,” Sutter said. “Gaborik hadn’t played …I think as it went on, he had a tough time.
“I think Kopi is going to tell you it was up and down. But he was really strong on draws, good killing penalties, and he looked good on the point on the power play.”
Said Kopitar: “It wasn’t really a long time for me that I was off. Just enough so the timing was a bit off. It shouldn’t be an excuse, really. Be better next game.”
He wasn’t the only forward with a great scoring opportunity. Ward also made a nice glove save on Williams with a little more than a minute remaining. The Kings had a late power play when Hurricanes defenseman Jay Harrison went off for hooking Dustin Brown with 3:10 left.
“Eventually, I’ve got to put one in the back of the net,” Williams said. “Especially on the power play, late, when we need one. This road trip, we’ve been down every first period, chasing the games. Sometimes you can get away with it.
“But we’re doing it again and again and again. It makes for a tough game.”
The Kings started the day by finding out that forward Jordan Nolan would be suspended for two games for boarding the Detroit Red Wings’ Darren Helm. It is the second suspension of his NHL career.
The NHL Department of Player Safety announced the decision Sunday morning, hours before the Kings were to play the Hurricanes. They held a telephone hearing with Nolan and Kings officials.
“I was a little surprised and disappointed, obviously,” Nolan said. “I wasn’t expecting it, thought a fine or a one-game suspension. I thought two games was a little much.”
Based on his salary, Nolan will forfeit $17,073.18, with the funds going to the Players’ Emergency Assistance Fund. His previous suspension, for one game, was in March of last season for punching Edmonton Oilers left wing Jesse Joensuu.