FSN SOUTH (TV)—It was the kind of goal that Cam Ward just doesn't give up.
But Ward only yielded a John Tavares goal in the second period, and the Hurricanes dug deep in the third to retake the lead and close out a 4-2 win that leaves them just a point back of the eighth and final playoff spot with four games remaining.
The Hurricanes' sixth win in their last seven games sets up a Sunday evening matchup in Raleigh with the Buffalo Sabres, who lost in overtime in Washington on Saturday night, that affords them the opportunity to pull into a playoff position or all but eliminate them from contention, depending upon the outcome.
Jussi Jokinen got the Canes rolling just five minutes in while the teams were skating four on four. Off a backhand pass from Joe Corvo, Jokinen fired the puck beneath Al Montoya for the 1-0 lead. The Canes would have been on the power play had it not been for an improperly filled-out lineup card that prompted a bench penalty call. It was Jokinen's 18th goal on the year.
Corvo was a catalyst all night, carrying the puck up ice with his head up, looking for passing options. On the Jokinen goal, Corvo drove the wing like a forward, drawing the defense and opening enough room for Jokinen to receive the pass and get off a shot before the Islanders could position themselves to block it. New York is one of the leading shot-blocking teams in the league.
Four minutes later, however Joensu took the wind out of Carolina's sails with his mystifying wrister, capping a rush started by two great Montoya saves in close on Drayson Bowman. Joensu flew down the wing and used a retreating Jamie McBain as a screen.
Although the goal only tied the game, the Canes suddenly seemed to feel the weight of not being able to afford to lose to an Islanders team already long-eliminated from the postseason tournament.
Ward scrambled to keep the puck out as the Isles forecheck opened point shots from their defenseman. Radek Martinek's drive found legs in front of Ward to skitter wide on a shot the goalie never saw with under six minutes to go in the opening frame. In the waning minutes, Tim Gleason slid feet-first like a baseball player to kick the puck off Matt Moulson's stick in the crease after Ward had gone down to get a pad on a P. J. Parenteau shot.
The Islanders continued their push in the second period after a failed Canes power play. Tavares cleanly beat Brandon Sutter on a faceoff and went straight to the net, redirecting Matt Moulson's slapshot past Ward. Tavares won 60 percent of his faceoffs in the game and was a factor on most every shift.
The Carolina goalie stiffened, however, with a bit of help from the goalposts. In the back half of the period, Blake Comeau collected the rebound of his wraparound attempt and clanged the puck off the far side post. Martinek also found the outside of the post with an open shot from the top of the circle after Erik Cole twice failed to clear the puck up the boards. The second intermission horn was a welcome sound for the Canes.
But if Carolina skated off after the second period with the weight of fading playoff hopes on their shoulders, they left it in the locker room. Summoning a forecheck of their own right out of the gate, the Canes tied the game just three minutes in. Tuomo Ruutu patiently kept a play alive, walking up the boards and holding a defender off as he waited for a passing opportunity. Tim Gleason scooted into the point position and fired a strong shot that Joe Corvo tipped over Montoya's glove.
Corvo notched his third point of the night three minutes later. He won a loose puck to Eric Staal, whose light shot off the wing was padded out by Montoya. But Cole had been driving the slot and immediately chipped the puck over Montoya's shoulder for his 24th goal of the season, against the grain of the play.
It was the latest in Cole's series of clutch third-period goals, and the Hurricanes hope it is not the last.
The Isles had a good chance to tie the game late when McBain cleared the puck directly over the boards on an uncontested play. Islanders coach Jack Capuano pulled Montoya before the opening faceoff of the power play to get a 6-on-4 advantage. But when a pass back to the point jumped a stick, Staal pounced on the chance to ice the win with a shorthanded empty-net goal in the final minute. The captain leads the Canes with 32 goals.
The Canes will try to retain the looseness they brought out of the tunnel for the third period as they return home for the back end of yet another back-to-back series. Their Sunday afternoon won't be spent watching the clock, waiting for the biggest game of the year. The Rangers skate with the Flyers in a 12:30 matinee before the Canes faceoff at the RBC Center at 5:00.