RALEIGH, N.C. -- The Panthers took off for their Olympic break a few hours earlier than scheduled as they fell behind and never came back in Friday’s 5-1 loss to the Hurricanes at PNC Arena.
The Panthers, who are on a near-certain path to miss the playoffs for the second consecutive season and for the 12th time in the past 13, don’t play again until Feb. 27.
Florida heads into its winter hiatus with losses in six of eight games — a run that realistically ended any hopes of the postseason.
“It’s really disappointing to see where our expectations are,” said coach Peter Horachek, who pulled Tim Thomas from net when Carolina made it 4-1 early in the second.
“My expectations and everyone’s expectations have to be on the same page. We have to raise them. We have to expect more from each other. That certainly wasn’t desperate hockey.”
Carolina, which still has to face visiting Montreal on Saturday before its break, took control midway through in the first by scoring twice within a span of 1:27.
Although the Panthers got a goal from Nick Bjugstad to make it 2-1 with 4:30 left in the period, Carolina went into the intermission up 3-1 as Florida again failed to get the puck out of its own zone.
All three of Carolina’s first-period goals came when the Panthers couldn’t get rid of the puck and allowed the Hurricanes to continue to work it around.
Reilly Nash scored off a Dylan Olsen turnover, Alexander Semin scored when Jonathan Huberdeau and Scottie Upshall couldn’t clear it, and Brett Bellemore scored when Upshall failed to control possession.
Horachek replaced Thomas with Scott Clemmensen after the Hurricanes pretty much ended things a mere 4:36 into the second when Jiri Tlusty scored.
At the pace Florida scores, and the way it played defense Friday, this game was over early.
The Panthers did get plenty of chances with Anton Khudobin —- Thomas’ understudy in Boston — playing exceptional in making 34 saves. Florida had two big scoring chances early in the third but couldn’t finish.
“We wanted to finish on the right note, get a win going into the break,” Huberdeau said. “We need to reset things. Everyone needs to come back ready to go.”
Sean Bergenheim declined to take advantage of all the injuries besetting Finland’s national team as he turned down an invitation to play in the Olympics.
Bergenheim, who turns 30 on Saturday, missed all of last season and a chunk of this one after having numerous surgeries related to his abdominal core.
This would have been Bergenheim’s first trip to the Games.
“For any athlete, having to say no to the Olympics is disappointing,” Bergenheim said Saturday night. “I had to make a decision with my best interests in mind. I really feel I need to the break. I’m happy with how far I have come, but I could take a real step forward after the break.”
Had he traveled to Sochi, Bergenheim would have been Florida’s third player in Russia. Aleksander Barkov (Finland) and Tomas Kopecky (Slovakia) plan to fly to Russia together from New York on Saturday. Broadcaster Steve Goldstein will be flying to Russia out of Miami.
• Horachek put defenseman Olsen back in the lineup on Friday with Mike Weaver being a healthy scratch for the first time this season.
Olsen could play games for Florida’s AHL team in San Antonio during the break.
“He’s 30-something years old and hasn’t had the best success in the back-to-backs,” Horachek said of Weaver.