Erik Cole scored twice while Cam Ward made 18 saves as the Carolina Hurricanes hung on for a crucial 4-3 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning.
The win kept the Canes just three points behind the Buffalo Sabres in the race for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. Buffalo downed the Florida Panthers Friday night 4-2.
Coach Paul Maurice was pleased with the way his club played in this critical game. “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,” Maurice said. “I was real pleased with the effort we got out of everyone.”
Although Carolina fell behind 1-0 when Simon Gagne scored on the power play at the 7:11 mark of the first period, they quickly fought back to take control of the tempo of the game. The Hurricanes outshot Tampa Bay 16-7 in the first period and evened the score when Calder Trophy candidate Jeff Skinner scored at 12:52.
The Canes defense played one of its best periods in the second stanza, holding the home team to just three shots on goal. Cole scored his first of the night on the power play to give Carolina a 2-1 lead after 40 minutes.
Cole increased his team’s lead nearly seven minutes into the third period on an unassisted backhander. He stole the puck from Eric Brewer behind the net and spun around to beat Dwayne Roloson before Eric Staal’s team leading 30th goal of the year made it 4-1 Carolina with just 7:40 left in the game.
Just when it seemed the Hurricanes were skating to a dominating and decisive victory, they had some breakdowns and let Tampa Bay right back into the game. Carolina didn’t allow the Bolts a shot on goal until nearly 13 minutes had gone by in the third period but when they finally got a puck on net, they scored. First Vincent Lecavalier scored and Gagne less than a minute later, Gange’s second goal of the game pulled the Lightning to within a goal with 5:51 left in the third period.
Tampa Bay had a final chance to tie the game in the final seconds when Gagne got the puck during a scramble in front but Ward came up big in the clutch and Carolina held on for a very big win.
The Canes did what they had to do in this game. Their power play, which has struggled of late, went 2-for-6 tonight. In addition, Carolina played a strong, physical game, outhitting the Lightning 22-13 and forcing Tampa Bay to take some bad penalties.
The same two teams meet again Saturday night in Raleigh in another must win game for Carolina.
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.