Games like these don’t always live up to their billing, but that wasn’t the case in a big Saturday night match-up at the RBC Center.
Erik Cole scored the overtime winner as the Hurricanes, who had been sitting in ninth place in the Eastern Conference for what seemed like an eternity, finally caught the Atlanta Thrashers in the simplest possible way – beating them in a head-to-head match that ended by a score of 4-3.
With the Canes earning two points and the Thrashers one, the two teams are now level on 58 points with Carolina holding the tiebreaker by having played two fewer games.
“We talked about this being a huge game and we won it, so we should enjoy that part of it,” said Hurricanes coach Paul Maurice.
“Both teams knew what this game meant in terms of the standings, and I think we were ready for it and so were they,” said Brandon Sutter. “It was back and forth, but we managed to get the two points.”
The only blemish for the home team was that they twice relinquished one-goal leads in a third period that saw each team score twice. First, Sutter gave his team its first lead of the night with a perfectly-placed rocket of a wrist shot from the top of the circle that beat goaltender Ondrej Pavelec, who had a strong game with 33 saves, over the right shoulder.
Then, the Thrashers’ Brent Sopel and the Hurricanes’ Jiri Tlusty would trade goals 28 seconds apart to restore the Canes’ lead before Atlanta defenseman Zach Bogosian sent it to overtime with 1:24 remaining and Pavelec pulled for the extra attacker.
“It’s unfortunate that we didn’t win it in regulation with two opportunities to step on them in the third, and that’s something that has been an issue for us a little bit,” said Cole. “We’re just going to have to keep working to try to limit those mishaps.”