Joni Pitkanen netted the winner with 1:02 left in overtime to give the Carolina Hurricanes a 3-2 win over the New York Islanders.
The victory gave the Canes two crucial points in the standings and ties them with the Buffalo Sabres for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, although Buffalo still has two games in hand.
Early on, it was goalie Cam Ward who came up big for the Hurricanes. Three times in the first period Isles rookie sensation Michael Grabner had breakaway chances and three times the Carolina goalie came up with big stops.
The Hurricanes have their own Calder Trophy candidate in Jeff Skinner and it he put the home team up 1-0 with 3:27 left in the opening period when he tipped Jussi Jokinen’s centering pass behind Isles goalie Al Montoya.
The Isles struck back just 1:19 later when Frans Nielsen backhanded a rebound of a Grabner shot past Ward from behind the goal line and the two teams ended the first period tied 1-1.
Things looked desperate for the Hurricanes when Grabner gave the Isles a 2-1 lead early in the second period. Ward made the initial save on Travis Hamonic’s shot from the point but the defense failed to pick up Grabner who easily backhanded the rebound into the net before Ward could get back into position.
While the Canes struggled to solve Montoya, Ward kept them in the game with several clutch stops in the third period. The biggest was a glove save off Matt Moulson who fired a one-timer from between the circles midway through the third which Ward caught after making a full extension.
With less than five minutes left in the game, things were getting desperate for the Hurricanes when Corey Stillman forced Nielsen to cough up the puck behind the goal and then found Erik Cole in front for the tying score. Cole’s shot went just over the shoulder of Montoya and just inside the cross bar.
“As a team, it’s really important that you can find a way to get to that desperation level,” Carolina Coach Paul Maurice said. “Then we found it, were able to change gears and good things started happening.”
In overtime, it was Pitkanen who played the unlikely hero, scoring just his third goal of the season on a one-timer from the top of the circle off a nice feed by Skinner who showed patience by holding the puck until he found the open man. Pitkanen’s shot went in off the far post and the Hurricanes postseason push was still alive.
“Jeff made a nice play there, and I decided to shoot,” said Pitkanen, who is often criticized for not putting enough pucks on net. “I guess the other D-man [Derek Joslin] screened a little bit and the goalie didn’t see it. We need those points.”
It was the first time in seven contests that Carolina scored more than two goals in one game. They were 1-4-1 in that span.
The Hurricanes return to action Tuesday when they host the Ottawa Senators.
About the Author
Written by Brad Kurtzberg
Hockey writer for more than 10 years. Has been published on Fox Sports, MSG Network, Huffington Post and Inside Hockey. Wrote the book, "Shorthanded: The Untold Story of the Seals, Hockey's Most Colorful Team" on the old California Golden Seals and is presently working on his second book.