When you go on a road trip, you've got to simplify your game. Keep your shifts short, dump the puck, and skate off for a line change. Stay disciplined on defense. Work your system and hope that you'll be in a position to win the game at the end.
Rewarded with only one point in losing their first two games on the current road trip despite playing disciplined, patient hockey, the Canes had relinquished a place in the standings going into games in Tampa and Atlanta over the weekend. But behind last-minute goals by Erik Cole and lights-out play by Cam Ward, Carolina took three out of a possible four points to carry some momentum into Wednesday's last stop on this trip in New Jersey.
First, Jeff Skinner and Erik Cole both scored in the final minute of regulation—with Cam Ward on the bench for the extra attacker—to send the Tampa game into overtime. Although the Lightning took that game 4-3, the Hurricanes awakened a tenacity that seemed to have been held in check since the All-Star break.
Sunday afternoon, although badly outshot by the Thrashers, the Canes again found a late goal. When most teams would be playing it safe to get the game to overtime to secure at least one point in the standings, Carolina kept pressing, and Cole again scored with just 1:19 left for a 3-2 win in regulation.
The head-to-head win put the Canes two points ahead of the Thrashers and just two behind the New York Rangers for seventh in the conference.
Although it's not the time of year to play firewagon hockey, Carolina's young lineup might be better suited to win with surges than through consistent, disciplined play. Third period leads have been a bane lately. On Feb. 5, the Thrashers tied the game with 1:24 left before losing in overtime—allowing them a point that could prove crucial before this season's over. Three nights later, on the verge of beating the Devils on the first game of the current road trip, the Canes allowed the home team back into it with a tying goal just 2:54 from the final horn. New Jersey eventually won the game in overtime—another point squandered.
Carolina begins a four-game home stand on Friday, when they will retire Rod Brind'Amour's jersey in what is expected to be an emotional pregame ceremony, before hosting the Flyers.