Already locked in a tight playoff race, the Carolina Hurricanes trailed the also-ran New York Islanders in the third period of a game they couldn’t afford to lose.
Hurricanes coach Paul Maurice demanded that his players loosen up. Once they did they stormed to a 4-2 victory on Saturday night that put them in striking distance of a spot in the postseason.
Erik Cole broke a 2-2 tie 6:04 into the third, and Carolina moved within one point of eighth place in the Eastern Conference playoff chase.
”That might have been the overall thought, but I’m not sure it came out like that,” Maurice said when asked if he told his team to relax during the second intermission. ”The key is not losing sight of that passion and excitement to win games.
”If you allow the tension and negativity of the ramifications of a potential negative outcome to affect that, then you’re tanked. We need to go out and just play.”
Joe Corvo, Jussi Jokinen and Eric Staal also scored, and Cam Ward made 30 saves for the surging Hurricanes, who scored three goals in the third. They have won seven of 10 to move one point behind the New York Rangers. Both teams have four games remaining.
”It’s preparing us for what playoff hockey is going to be like. The ups and downs, the momentum changes,” Cole said. ”But more importantly, it’s teaching us that we can’t have a group that goes out and be tense. We have to be loose. We have to play the way we’re capable.”
Jesse Joensuu and John Tavares had Islanders goals. Al Montoya stopped 22 shots, but couldn’t protect New York’s 2-1 lead in the third period.
Jokinen converted a feed from Corvo 4:47 in to give Carolina a 1-0 lead. Corvo raced up right wing before feathering a backhand pass to the streaking Jokinen, who lifted a shot over Montoya’s glove.
The early deficit didn’t seem to faze the Islanders, who gave the Hurricanes little room in the neutral zone and forechecked heavily. It was a formula that also worked in their 6-2 win over the Rangers on Thursday.
”I don’t think we played too bad,” Tavares said. ”Last game was real emotional.”
Joensuu tied it 1-1 four minutes later with a hard shot that eluded Ward. Tavares’ redirection of Matt Moulson’s point shot at 7:05 of the second period gave New York its only lead.
”The coaches tell you to shoot off the (defensemen’s) feet. Maybe the goalie doesn’t see it,” Joensuu said of his goal. ”It was lucky that it (went) in.”
Corvo tied the game again at 3:02 of the third with a tip of Tim Gleason’s point shot, and set the stage for Cole’s game-winner.
Cole stood in front of Montoya and shoved Staal’s pass past Montoya to put Carolina ahead for good.
”Staal made a great pass,” Cole said. ”We kind of had a little bit of a broken play going into the zone — their ‘D’ stood up — but Staaler kept with it and got a hold on it. I just stopped in front, and he fired one at me. I was able to get a stick on it, get it up top, over his shoulder.”
Staal added an empty-net goal with 47.6 seconds left.
NOTES: Islanders C Frans Nielsen won the team’s Bob Nystrom Award for dedication. Nielsen didn’t play Saturday because of a concussion symptoms resulting from a hit he took from the Rangers’ Marian Gaborik on Thursday. . . . The Islanders have the most man-games lost this season (543). The Hurricanes have the fewest (61). . . . Tavares served as an alternate captain for the first time in his NHL career. . . . The Hurricanes were penalized at 2:57 of the first period for starting an illegal lineup. The Islanders had back-to-back home sellouts for the first time this season. They have only a total of three.