|NYI||1||1||0||0||(0 - 0)||2|
|CAR||1||0||1||1||(0 - 0)||3|
With the season potentially slipping away, the Hurricanes finally rediscovered their offense when it mattered most.
Facing a one-goal deficit to the New York Islanders with under five minutes remaining the third period, Erik Cole scored one of his trademark clutch goals to send it to overtime, where Joni Pitkanen did the honors to earn a much-needed two points in the 3-2 victory.
With the Canes mired in an offensive slump and having just four wins when trailing after two periods this season, the comeback seemed unlikely at times. That was especially true after a lackluster second period that saw the team out-shot 17-8, but they were able to turn the tables in the third, peppering Islanders goalie Al Montoya with 14 of their own.
“It was really important as a team that you can find that desperation level, and we found it,” said Hurricanes coach Paul Maurice. “To be able to change gears and have some good things start happening is really important, because now we know it’s there.”
“When a team plays desperate they’re hard to play against, and I think in the third period we were definitely hard to play against,” said Jeff Skinner, who recorded his 25th goal of the season in the first period and assisted on Pitkanen’s winner.
Cole’s goal with 4:37 remaining brought him to the 20-goal mark for the fourth time in his career. The Islanders’ Frans Nielsen, who scored the visitors’ first goal in the opening period, lost the puck behind his own net to Cory Stillman, who fed a quick backhand to the slot for a waiting Cole. Rather than miss his chance, as had happened so often to the Canes in their last handful of games and had even happened to Cole twice in this game, he fired a quick and perfectly-placed snap shot over Montoya’s shoulder to send his team and the RBC Center crowd into a frenzy.
“It’s kind of been like that the last couple of games where we’ve been getting a number of chances collectively and just haven’t been able to find a way to get one in,” said Cole. “It was a good comeback for us and a big two points.”
That set the stage for Pitkanen to win the game with just 1:02 left in overtime. With Skinner holding the puck in the corner, Pitkanen beat his defender to the net and launched a blistering shot to the same spot Cole had success on. It rang off the post and in, which, after all their frustrations lately, was music to the Canes’ ears.
“It’s easy to let it creep into your mind, but you’ve just got to be able to have the confidence that when you get that puck you’re going to snap it in,” said Cam Ward, who finished with 35 saves. “I think Joni had some confidence on that shot.”
“Skinner put it in a place he could just step into it,” said Maurice of Pitkanen. “He’s got a great shot.”
The win allowed the Hurricanes to tie the idle Buffalo Sabres for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. However, the Sabres, who have played two fewer games, hold the winning-percentage tiebreaker for the time being.
The Hurricanes were able to stay within range of their comeback thanks in large part to Ward, who was up to the challenge throughout the night. That was especially true in the first two periods, as he made two crucial breakaway stops on rookie Michael Grabner, who showed why he won Fastest Skater at the NHL All-Star Skills Competition in this same building not two months ago.
Grabner eventually scored the go-ahead goal for the Islanders in the second period off a lost defensive-zone faceoff for the Canes, but Ward was there to deny him on his eight other shots on goal.
“To be able to make the saves, those could be game changers,” said Ward. “We saw (Grabner) here at the All-Star Game, and he showed us what he can do with all that speed that he has.”
“I think he’s the fastest player in the league, and if not he’s in the top three or four,” said Maurice.
While Grabner’s goal was his league-leading 29th among rookies, Skinner still holds the overall scoring lead. His two points on this night showed why, as he opened the scoring near the end of the first period as he was left all alone in front of Montoya to redirect a Jussi Jokinen pass into the net.
However, the goal would be answered by Nielsen just 1:19 later, setting the stage for some nervous moments by the home team heading into the middle period.
“I think our compete level obviously wasn’t where we wanted it to be in that second period, and that’s what you saw in the third,” said Skinner. “We worked a lot harder and competed on every puck.”
The Hurricanes are off until Tuesday, which will allow the Sabres to catch up in terms of games played. Both teams will play their 73rd out of 82 games this season on Tuesday, with Carolina playing host to Ottawa.
In the meantime, the Canes will spend the weekend watching and hoping.
“I’ll watch the scores,” said Maurice. “I’m going to run as many superstitions as I possibly can and we’ll see how it goes.”
NOTES: The Hurricanes’ penalty kill returned to form after allowing two power-play goals to Toronto on Wednesday, killing all three Islanders power plays and taking as many shots shorthanded (three) as they allowed … The Canes are 16-3-3 in their last 22 meetings with the Islanders, and have not lost in regulation in the last 11 … Entering the game, the Islanders were 22-15-6 since Dec. 15, which was third-best record in the East. They have earned points in eight of their last nine games.
|Jeff Skinner (25) ASST: Jussi Jokinen (31), Tuomo Ruutu (31)|
1 - 0 CAR
|Frans Nielsen (10) ASST: Michael Grabner (15), Radek Martinek (11)|
1 - 1 Tie
|Michael Grabner (29) ASST: Travis Hamonic (18), Frans Nielsen (30)|
2 - 1 NYI
|Erik Cole (20) ASST: Cory Stillman (21)|
2 - 2 Tie
|Joni Pitkanen (3) ASST: Jeff Skinner (27), Eric Staal (35)|
3 - 2 CAR
|Micheal Haley Interference against Jerome Samson|
|Jay Harrison Hooking against Pierre-Alexandre Parenteau|
|Tim Gleason Cross checking against John Tavares|
|Tim Gleason Roughing against Pierre-Alexandre Parenteau|
|Chad LaRose Hooking against Kyle Okposo|
|John Tavares Interference against Erik Cole|
|SA: 35||TOI: 63:58|
|Saves: 32||EV: 27 - 30|
|PIM: 0||PP: 3 - 3|
|SV%: .914||SH: 2 - 2|
|SA: 37||TOI: 63:48|
|Saves: 35||EV: 32 - 34|
|PIM: 0||PP: 3 - 3|
|SV%: .946||SH: 0 - 0|