After taking an interference penalty that nullified his goal that would have made the score 4-1 in the second period, Cole scored the game-winning tally in overtime to beat the Atlanta Thrashers 4-3 Sunday afternoon at the RBC Center.
Cole’s goal, which gave the Canes their second victory of the season against the division rival Thrashers, came on a great second effort after his breakaway attempt was stopped by goaltender Ondrej Pavelec. Following that play, Carolina defenseman Ian White forced Atlanta’s Dustin Byfuglien to turn the puck back over to Cole, who beat Pavelec to seal the win.
“Their d-man just over-skated the puck and we were able to jump on it,” said Cole. “I just tried to snap it on the net and beat him short-side.”
Earlier in the game, Cole’s penalty, a call that he and Carolina coach Paul Maurice strongly disagreed with, became a major turning point. Instead of going up 4-1 and building on a lead provided by Tuomo Ruutu, Zac Dalpe and Jeff Skinner, the Canes were left shorthanded when referees ruled that Cole interfered with Byfuglien in the crease before depositing a low backhand.
“I was just trying to get body position in front of the net,” said Cole. “Unfortunately, that guy that’s like 6-4 and 260 or something like that (Byfuglien is actually 6-foot-5 and 265 pounds) was maybe just a little off-balance I guess.”
With Cole on the box, the Hurricanes allowed a quick tally by Niclas Bergfors that made the game 3-2. The Thrashers’ Bryan Little would then tie the game with his second goal of the night at the midway point of the third period.
Cole’s penalty and its repercussions were reminiscent of a five-minute major for boarding that he took in the Hurricanes’ Dec. 23 game against Montreal, which the team also felt was harsh. With Cole in the box for the full five minutes regardless of what happened, the Canadiens scored twice to take a lead that they would never relinquish.
Cole was hard on himself after that game, saying that his penalty “cost us the game tonight.” In this case, the opposite was true.
“For Colesy to take over at the end, he was the hero,” said Carolina goaltender Justin Peters.
“He’s played very well for us,” said Maurice, who added that he felt Cole has “elevated his game” in recent weeks. “A hard game driving the net and strong in front of the net. I think it was very fitting.”
Sunday’s game marked the seventh consecutive contest in which Carolina has earned at least one point in the standings, as they’ve posted a 5-0-2 record in that span. It was also the second win in a row for backup goaltender Justin Peters, who made 25 saves filling in for a not-quite-healthy Cam Ward.
“I feel good,” said Peters, who was playing in his 10th game of the season. “People always say you’re not in there a lot but I’ve been on the ice every day facing some of the best shooters in the world. I get lots of shots and I felt I was ready for the opportunity.”
“(The win is) huge for his confidence and the team’s,” said Maurice. “Now when he goes in at whatever time, we believe he can win us a game. He made some big saves today and I think he’s still got room to improve and is still battling a little bit in the net, but at the end of the day it doesn’t matter how you look. He made saves that he needed to make and we won the game.”
Peters had to be sharp late in regulation, when the Thrashers, who were 2-3 on the power play at that point, went on the man advantage in the final three minutes due to a Chad LaRose tripping penalty. The Canes were able to kill that one off, with a diving clear by Brandon Sutter serving as a key moment.
“You’re almost feeling in some ways like this is your season,” said Maurice. “That’s the way it felt on the bench because we’re chasing Atlanta and we don’t like the way the game went from 4-1 to 3-2, they tie this game and now they’ve got a penalty late.”
“It was big,” said Sutter of the kill. “Peters came up pretty big for us there and had a good night, and it’s great for him to get some confidence here because he’s been playing well.”
At the conclusion of their game, the Hurricanes found themselves in ninth place in the Eastern Conference and just three points behind Montreal, who has played one more game.
“Ever since Dec. 1 we’ve been playing pretty good,” said Sutter. “Now we’re halfway through and we’ve got a bit of a lead on a couple of teams that are ahead of us in games played. We’ve just got to keep winning.”
NOTES: Ruutu’s first-period goal and his assist on Dalpe’s tally give him 11 points in his last seven games … Eric Staal played his 520th game with the Hurricanes, tying him with Sami Kapenen for seventh-most in franchise history … Staal and Sutter each won 66.7 percent of their faceoffs, which are season-highs for both players … Prior to scoring and allowing two power play goals on Sunday, the Hurricanes had played three consecutive games in which teams combined for zero goals on special teams … Carolina is now 12-0-0 when leading after two periods