No one expected bad blood in this one, not between two non-divisional opponents and after only one prior, uneventful meeting this season.
But this was a heated tilt from the word go, with Carolina Hurricanes forward Tuomo Ruutu going at Toronto Maple Leafs captain Dion Phaneuf with a hit to open the game and Phaneuf returning the favour soon after with an even bigger one.
But for all of Leafs general manager Brian Burke's talk of his teams playing truculent and tough, it was the Hurricanes that prevailed in this one, winning a 6-4 battle that left one of Toronto's top scorers with what appeared to be a badly broken nose.
Neither team is known for spending much time in the box, but they racked up 37 penalty minutes in the first period alone and 16 minor penalties overall.
Leafs winger Nikolai Kulemin got the worst of one melee when, slugged in the face by Carolina defenceman Tim Gleason, he left the game dripping blood all over the ice. Gleason was tossed from the contest and given a five-minute major, but the Leafs' struggling power play let them down and left them trailing 3-1 by early in the third period.
From there, Toronto fourth-liner Tim Brent went to work in an impressive solo act, scoring his fifth and sixth goals of the season 1 minute and 11 seconds apart on two nice individual efforts to tie the game at three.
Hurricanes forwards Brandon Sutter and Jeff Skinner then served up the rally killers, scoring twice as Leafs netminder Jean-Sebastien Giguere struggled to stop the onslaught.
A power-play marker by winger Mike Brown with six minutes to play brought Toronto to within one, but it proved too little, too late, and Carolina salted the win away with an empty-netter after a bad turnover by Clarke MacArthur.
One of the biggest problems for Toronto was that, even with numerous opportunities on the man advantage, they couldn't capitalize all night.
One particularly egregious missed opportunity came late in the second with a lengthy 5-on-3. Leafs coach Ron Wilson called a timeout to prepare his troops for it, but Carolina killed it off easily to leave Toronto 0-for-7 on the power play after 40 minutes.
Missing a top-line forward in Kulemin didn't help, but even with him the power play has been anaemic of late. The Leafs have three power play tallies in their last 28 opportunities (10.7 per cent) since scoring five in a 9-3 rout of the Atlanta Thrashers near the start of the month.
Carolina went 2-for-7 on the power play, including a late insurance goal by rookie of the year front-runner Jeff Skinner - his ninth in his past 13 games.
The rough stuff
A good portion of the penalty minutes in the game came from unlikely sources, including MacArthur, who picked up the first fighting major of his career in a spirited bout with Chad Larose midway through the first period.
It was the second time this season the fiery MacArthur has dropped the gloves, but he received only a double minor for roughing earlier this year when he pummelled Montreal Canadiens defenceman Jaroslav Spacek.
With Kulemin's injury and the game's other physical play, this was a rare match-up where Toronto truly missed having an enforcer on the ice. Heavyweight Colton Orr is out of the lineup with a concussion while his replacement, Jay Rosehill, was a healthy scratch in favour of Fredrik Sjostrom, who was back in the lineup after missing five games with a leg injury.
'Canes catching up
Carolina has struggled on the road of late, but still remains on a hot streak since late December, going 9-4-2 in their past 15 games to rescue their season.
That run has put the Hurricanes right back in the thick of the Eastern Conference playoff race. After tonight, they're only one point back of the Atlanta Thrashers in eighth place and have two games in hand.
"Had we not [been on a run]we might be 12 points out of the playoffs," Hurricanes coach Paul Maurice said. "We just kind of kept pace. Now we've got games in hand. But it's an interesting thing … We're chasing Atlanta, Montreal. They've had a pretty good stretch of those three-point games."Report Typo/Error