Trailing 2-0 to Atlanta after the first period at the RBC Center on Wednesday, the Canes answered back with goals by Troy Bodie and Erik Cole to force overtime. It looked as though they would seal the game with an odd-man rush in the extra session, but a rebound off goaltender Ondrej Pavelec sent the Thrashers the other way for a decisive two-on-one that was converted by Tim Stapleton for the victory.
With the point earned by reaching overtime, the Canes move into an eighth-place tie with idle Buffalo, although they officially sit in ninth with the Sabres having played one fewer game.
“You can check out the boards and see where everybody is and check the results from last night, but at the end of the day you come in here and you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do or you’re not going anywhere,” said defenseman Jay Harrison.
Heading into overtime, the Hurricanes had all the momentum by way of their gradual comeback. They out-shot the Thrashers 13-4 in the third period and seemed set to put the game away for good just over a minute into overtime with defenseman Joni Pitkanen joining an odd-man rush led by compatriot Jussi Jokinen.
However, Jokinen’s wrist shot to ice the game was stopped Pavelec, who made 35 saves on the night, allowing Stapleton and Ron Hainsey to break the other direction, with Stapleton converting a cross-crease pass at the near post to give Atlanta their first win in five tries against Carolina this season.
“You take your three-on-one rush, take your shot at it and then we got hung up there and it’s a two-on-one back,” said Maurice.
While they wanted two points to take sole possession of eighth place, the Canes were able to earn one by erasing a first period that saw them trail just 3:22 into the contest through Rob Schremp’s power-play goal, which ended up being the only special-teams tally of the night. Before the frame ended, Atlanta defenseman Tobias Enstrom was allowed to sneak in from the point, beating Cam Ward from the slot.
The period saw the Hurricanes register 10 shots, with many more efforts not finding their way to Pavelec.
“You’ve got to find a way to get the puck to the net,” said Maurice. “I thought that was the difference in the game. In the first period we had 10 shots on goal and 27 shot attempts. We missed the net and got an awful lot blocked.”
“They got a power-play goal and one off our d-zone coverage, but it wasn’t a completely awful period,” said Cole. “It wasn’t as bad as I think it felt. We just need to be a little bit sharper and pick up a few areas. From that point on, especially in the second period, we did a good job of playing our game.”
That started with Bodie’s goal midway through the second – his first as a Hurricane and first since March 21, 2010 with the Anaheim Ducks. The play started when Bryan Allen’s shot from the point was blocked by Enstrom, but the puck went right to Bodie who corralled it and roofed it over Pavelec for his sixth goal in 105 NHL games.
“It was good to get on the board,” he said. “You go through the whole season and you wonder if you’re going to even get it. It’s a big weight off my shoulders.”
“He’s had a bunch of good chances and then he had a rough stretch there, but I’m glad to see him get one and it seemed to get us going as well,” said Maurice.
Cory Stillman nearly tied the game on a three-on-two attempt that hit the crossbar near the end of the frame, but that honor would eventually go to Cole, who set Stillman up for the near miss, at the 12-minute mark of the third. With Stillman holding the puck in the defensive zone, Cole jumped off the bench just in time to receive a perfect pass at the blue line, which he used to beat Pavelec on a quick breakaway deke.
The goal was Cole’s fourth in five games against the Thrashers this season, three of which were game winners.
“Cory got a hold of it and there was a seam there that I could jump into,” said Cole. “He put it right on my tape, and fortunately it went in.”
“Cole comes off the bench, and as soon as he saw Stillman with the puck he went to the biggest hole he could find,” said Maurice.
The Canes had a few great chances to win it in the final minutes of regulation and increase their lead over the Thrashers in the playoff chase, but Pavelec was there to deny Chad LaRose with his glove and Brandon Sutter with his right leg on the doorstep.
“I thought after the first period we were better at getting the traffic to the net, and their guy made some big, big saves,” said Maurice.
The Hurricanes, who recently enjoyed four days off, now continue a three-games-in-four-days set in Washington before returning home Saturday to face the Columbus Blue Jackets.
NOTES: The road team has won 9 of the last 11 meetings in the Carolina/Atlanta season series … Carolina fell to 7-1-1 in its last 9 games against the Thrashers … Allen’s assist on Bodie’s goal was his 100th NHL point … Pitkanen played his 200th game with the Hurricanes … Prior to allowing the Schremp goal, the Canes’ penalty killers were perfect for three consecutive games … Atlanta defenseman Paul Postma made his NHL debut in place of the injured Dustin Byfuglien.