NEWARK -- Tuomo Ruutu said the Carolina Hurricanes didn't play with enough emotion Wednesday night in a 3-2 loss to the New Jersey Devils at the Prudential Center.
Didn't bang enough. Didn't fight hard enough.
But the question, simply, was why? Last week, the Canes lost a 2-1 lead late in regulation against the Devils, then lost 3-2 in overtime. Everyone in a Carolina sweater was aware the Devils are the hottest team in the league, without a regulation loss since the All-Star break and now 13-1-2 in their last 16 games.
The Canes went into the game in eighth place in the East, but with the Atlanta Thrashers and Buffalo Sabres close behind. Why come out so cautiously, with little physical play or edge?
"I don't know what it was," Ruutu said. "I don't know if it's preparation or being ready. I don't know. You're not going to win playing like that."
It was the Canes' fifth straight road game. Could fatigue and travel been a factor?
"No, no," Ruutu said. "We had two days without a game and we should have competed (better).
"We won a lot of games in January and we played every other day."
Ruutu, on his 28th birthday, scored his 14th goal of the season. But it came with 4.1 seconds left, with the Canes trailing 3-1 and with Cam Ward out of net for an extra attacker.
The Devils led 1-0 after two periods, on Ilya Kovalchuk's goal early in the second, but scored twice in the first 1:59 of the third. Brian Rolston had a 4-on-4 goal, off the rebound of a Patrik Elias shot, to make it 2-0 just 34 seconds into the period and then Elias scored.
"We go down and didn't get it to the net and they come down and get it to the net," Canes coach Paul Maurice said of Rolston's goal. "I think their game plan was like ours and they did a better job on the four-on-four.
"There wasn't a lot. It was just a high blocker shot we couldn't control. We didn't do it the other way.
"Our game is to put as many pucks as we can to the net and we didn't get to that to the third."
The Canes managed just 11 shots in the first two periods, then 14 in the third as the Devils hunkered down defensively after taking the 3-0 lead.
"We turned a lot of pucks over that we haven't," Maurice said. "The thing lacking on our side was the quickness wasn't there. For whatever reason our legs just weren't where they needed to be.
"It was a very quiet game for two periods of hockey. There didn't seem to be a lot of jump going either way for either team to generate much."
Devils goalie Johan Hedberg wasn't pressed very hard until the third, until Sergei Samsonov scored at 8:17.
"A lot of it is the way New Jersey plays," Samsonov said. "They can put you to sleep. They don't give you a whole lot.
"They play somewhat boring hockey, I guess. They're a little bit more structured than when we first played them. ... But we don't have any excuses. We know where we are in the standings."
The five-game road swing finished with regulation losses to the Flyers and Devils, overtime losses to the Devils and Tampa Bay Lightning and a 3-2 win Sunday in Atlanta over the Thrashers.
The Canes now have a rare back-to-back at home. They face the Philadelphia Flyers, the best team in the East and arguably the best team in the league, on Friday. Then it's New Jersey, again, on Saturday.
"We'll come back," Ruutu said.