The Carolina Hurricanes looked like the cardiac 'Canes of old as they rallied in Raleigh to beat the Toronto Maple Leafs 6-5 after a shootout Thursday.
Shrugging off a first-period deficit that saw them trail by three goals, Carolina can thank Erik Cole who scored with 1.9 seconds left to tie the game at 5-5 and send the game into overtime.
Cole's goal in the dying moments of the third came after Ian White scored for Toronto with 29 seconds left to seemingly put away the Hurricanes.
Nothing was decided in the extra fame, but Carolina's Tuomo Ruutu and Jussi Jokinen scored in the shootout while their goalie Manny Legace turned away Phil Kessel and Lee Stempniak to clinch the two points.
"I know that we have it in this team," Ruutu said, "and today, we showed it."
With the extra-time win, Carolina (4-13-5) picked up its 13th point of the season, good enough for 29th in the league standings and a one-point cushion over the Maple Leafs (3-11-6), the NHL's worst team.
Toronto has faced a raft of problems this season, but the trouble it has had notching the first goal of the game didn't factor into Thursday's match, thanks to a strong forechecking effort by Alexei Ponikarovski.
The Maple Leafs' left-winger chased Carolina defenceman Joe Corvo from behind the Hurricanes goal and forced him to cough up the puck in the slot. Matt Stajan gobbled up the gift and fired a shot over the blocker of Manny Legace for a 1-0 lead just 1:01 into the game.
The Hurricanes had their share of chances after allowing the Stajan goal, but that didn't register on the score sheet. Carolina's Andrew Alberts came within centimetres of tying it at 10:31, but his shot rang off the post.
Stempniak made it a two-goal game with five minutes to go in the opening frame when he stepped inside the Carolina zone and ripped a hard, low shot from the right side that found a gap under Legace's blocker.
Some sloppy own-zone play by Carolina cost them the third goal.
After the Maple Leafs' top line of Nik Hagman, Jason Blake and Mikhail Grabovski blocked three attempts by the Hurricanes to clear the puck, Grabovski potted a rebound with 1:20 to go to complete the first period rout.
"We definitely let one get away there," Stajan said. "It's been the story all year … nothing's going right. We score a goal late, it seems like things are going to turn, and they get one with two seconds left. I'm kind of at a loss for words.
"You shouldn't lose a hockey game where you have a 3-0 [lead], let alone one with a lead with three seconds left," he added.
Jonas (The Monster) Gustavsson kept Carolina off the board for the first half of the game by doing his best to become monster-sized, denying several chances on the doorstep by clogging up the crease and getting some help from his defencemen.
Shutout bid ends
But the help couldn't come quick enough with 3:13 to go in the second when Gustavssson sat in his crease, unaware that the puck was sitting directly behind him. Before the Toronto goaltender could reach back and cover the puck, a diving stab by Stephane Yelle broke the shutout bid.
Just 42 seconds later, the 'Canes made it a one-goal game heading into the third period.
With 2:34 to go in the second, Jeff Finger saved Gustavsson again by scooping up a puck that squirted through his goalie's five-hole — however, the play stayed in the Toronto zone and led to Matt Cullen roofing it on Gustavsson from the side of the net.
A big hip check by Toronto's White on Cole flipped the Carolina wing and helped restore Toronto's two-goal lead at the beginning of the third.
The hit led to a dust-up between the two players in front of the Leafs' goal. Cole came out of the fight a loser on two counts — he was cut under his left eye and tagged with both a cross-checking penalty and the fighting major.
On that power play, Ponikarovsky swooped into the left side of the Hurricanes' zone, busted toward the net and had the puck careen off a Carolina stick and over Legace to make it 4-2.
Gleason's pair sparks comeback
The Hurricanes' Tim Gleason erased that deficit with a pair of goals 3:48 apart.
The Carolina defenceman's shot from the point went through the legs of his teammate Jokinen — who was parked in front of Gustavsson — and into the net with under 12 minutes to play.
A bad call for the Maple Leafs resulted in the next Gleason goal after refs tapped White with high-sticking double minor. The Toronto defenceman was wrongly fingered as the player who got a stick up on Tom Kostopolous — video review showed it was Yelle who hit his own player and drew blood.
Gleason put his team on even terms with 8:04 to play by snapping a one-timer from Brandon Sutter.
White scored with 29 seconds left, but the game was sent to overtime — and then the shootout — after Cole scored with less than two seconds left.
"Where do you go? You go back to Toronto, you go to sleep, you wake up the next morning and you go to the practice, you stay focused on whatever needs to be done," Ponikarovsky said. "Same old things again, all over. Just get ready for the next game and go out and win the next one."