TAMPA, Fla. (AP) - While Carolina drew no closer to a postseason berth with a victory, the Hurricanes are building confidence and momentum in their late push.
Erik Cole scored two goals to help Carolina beat the Tampa Bay Lightning 4-3 on Friday night to remain three points behind Buffalo for the final Eastern Conference playoff spot.
Cole put the Hurricanes up 2-1 with a power-play goal at 8:23 of the second period and added an unassisted backhander 6:50 into the third to help Carolina win its third straight game.
Team captain Eric Staal scored for the first time in eight games to give Carolina a 4-1 lead, connecting on a power play with 7:40 left in the third. Tampa Bay cut the deficit to one in a 52-second span on a goal by Vincent Lecavalier and Simon Gagne's second power-play score, but the rally fell short.
"Regardless our situation in the standings, that would've been a tough loss, given how our hockey club played for, oh, I don't know, 56 minutes," Hurricanes coach Paul Maurice said. "I was real pleased with the effort we got out of everyone."
Gagne opened the scoring at 7:12 of the first period on Tampa Bay's second power-play opportunity.
Jeff Skinner tied it with 7:08 left in the first. The rookie center has scored at least one point in each of the first four games in the season series, which resumes Saturday night in Raleigh.
The Lightning had only three shots on Cam Ward in the second period.
"When you don't shoot, you don't create momentum, and you don't create chaos in the offensive zone," Lightning coach Guy Boucher said. "We can't sustain any pressure, and that's what they did. They shot from everywhere."
Ward stopped 18 shots, and Dwayne Roloson made 35 saves for Tampa Bay.
"We still feel like we did good things at the end, but they get paid, too," Cole said. "They're an explosive offensive team ... but Cam held down the fort for us, and we were able to buckle down and get two big points."
Tampa Bay has lost four consecutive games and 10 of 12 overall this month. The Lightning have lost their knack for winning close games, having dropped eight of their last nine games decided by one goal after going 10-0-2 in such contests.
NOTES: The Hurricanes are 14-4-2 against the Lightning in their last 20 games. They are 4-1-0 since a four-game winless streak and have won three in a row for the first time since early January. ... Tampa Bay RW Adam Hall played in his 500th NHL game. ... Carolina D Jamie McBain (shoulder) missed his sixth straight game. He might return when the home-and-home series concludes Saturday. ... Lightning RW Steve Downie returned after missing nine games because of a high ankle sprain. He received a 10-minute misconduct penalty in the third period. ... Carolina is 24-1-0 when leading after two periods.