Three years to the day after Carolina fired him, the winningest coach in Hurricanes history got the best of his old team in his return. Alexander Steen’s goal with six minutes remaining gave the Toronto Maple Leafs a 4-3 win over the Hurricanes on Friday night.
Maurice denied feeling any added satisfaction from defeating his former team.
“As hard as this is to explain, it’s nice to win in here, but I don’t have any enjoyment beating (Carolina general manager) Jim Rutherford’s team,” Maurice said. “I didn’t know what to expect. “It’s great that we won, it’s nice to win in here, but there’s no joy in beating your friends.”
Mats Sundin had two goals and an assist and Bryan McCabe added a goal and two assists for Toronto, which blew a 3-1 lead in the third period but pulled away for its second straight victory since snapping a season-worst seven-game losing streak.
“We knew that they’ve struggled a little bit, just like us, and we knew they were going to come out hard, so we wanted to make sure that we matched their work ethic,” Sundin said.
About three minutes after Carolina tied it 3-3, the Maple Leafs worked the puck to Steen in the right slot and he snapped it past Cam Ward from about 15 feet.
“We were still trying to score goals at 3-3. We didn’t try to eke it out,” Maurice said.
The Hurricanes pulled Ward in the final minute, but couldn’t convert in the closing moments against Andrew Raycroft.
“When you haven’t won, you’ve got to dig yourself out of it,” Hurricanes coach Peter Laviolette said. “Nobody’s going to feel sorry for you.
“Nobody’s going to have any sympathy for you throughout the league. You’ve got to work harder, and execute better, be a little more disciplined, play a little bit tougher.”
Erik Cole, Justin Williams and Mike Commodore scored for Carolina, which lost its fifth straight.
Raycroft made 29 saves for Toronto, which snapped a four-game road losing streak and made Maurice a winner in his first game at the RBC Center as a visitor.
“Obviously, it feels good to win that for him,” Raycroft said. “It was important to him.
“He has been here a long time, before now, and it means a lot to him. We know that. So it was nice to do that for him.”
No coach in Hurricanes history has more victories than Maurice’s 268 from 1995 to ’03. But he was fired after a slow start to the 2003-’04 season. He coached the Maple Leafs’ top minor-league affiliate last season and is in his first season as Pat Quinn’s replacement.
Ward stopped 21 shots for the Hurricanes.
“Any loss is unacceptable. Period,” Laviolette said.
Carolina trailed by two entering the third period before Williams and Commodore led the Hurricanes’ comeback bid.
Williams pulled Carolina to 3-2 with a power-play goal with 13:57 to play when he lifted a wrist shot from near the goal-line past Raycroft. Commodore tied it about five minutes later when he tapped a rebound from the slot past Raycroft, but Toronto held firm and denied the Hurricanes their third straight home victory.
“I just kind of crept in there and the guy just kind of tried to clear it. It was a good feeling while it lasted,” Commodore said.
Sundin scored consecutive goals to put the Maple Leafs ahead 2-1 midway through the second period. He first tied the game 1-1 when he fired a wrist shot through Ward’s legs late in the first period, then put Toronto ahead during a 5-on-3 advantage, scoring his 12th goal of the season.
Minutes later, McCabe also scored on a 5-on-3, blasting a shot from just outside the right circle past Ward to make it 3-1. It was the ninth power-play goal Carolina has allowed during its last three games.
Notes: Sundin has 858 points with the Maple Leafs and has moved ahead of Dave Keon into second place in franchise history . . . Hurricanes C Eric Staal has assists in three straight games . . . Carolina captain Rod Brind’Amour (lower body) missed his third straight game . . . New North Carolina State football coach Tom O’Brien was greeted with cheers when he was introduced during a break.