The Carolina Hurricanes scored twice in the final 80 seconds to rally for a stunning 4-3 victory over the New Jersey Devils in Game 7 of their opening-round playoff series on Tuesday night.
Jussi Jokinen tied it with a one-timer with 1:20 to go, and Eric Staal beat Devils goalie Martin Brodeur with a wrist shot from his off wing with 31.7 seconds left to shock the Jersey crowd into silence and send the Hurricanes into the second round for the first time since they won the Stanley Cup in 2006.
No. 6-seeded Carolina will meet the top-ranked Boston Bruins, well-rested after sweeping Montreal, in the Eastern Conference semifinals.
The other Eastern matchup pits No. 4 Pittsburgh against No. 2 Washington. The Capitals earned the date by beating the New York Rangers 2-1 in their own Game 7 earlier Tuesday night.
Tuomo Ruutu and Ray Whitney also scored for Carolina, and Cam Ward made 32 saves, including a dozen in the final period to help make the late-game heroics possible.
"This is as sweet as it comes," said Ward, who wasn't pulled for an extra attacker on the tying goal. "What a finish. It's hard to believe right now just because we were down 3-2 with only two minutes to go. How quickly things can change. That's why you never give up and play until the final buzzer."
Gleason starts key play
Jamie Langenbrunner and Jay Pandolfo gave New Jersey a 2-1 lead after the first period, and Brian Rolston's second-period power-play goal looked like it would be enough to return the Devils to the second round following a one-year hiatus.
But with less than two minutes to go, Carolina's Tim Gleason made a great play to keep the puck in at the blue-line, going down on his knees to corral the roundel and send it over to defence partner Joni Pitkanen.
Pitkanen whipped a cross-ice pass to Jokinen, and his one-timer went between the pads of a sliding Brodeur, whose reluctance to employ the butterfly style might have cost him the save.
Just 48 seconds later, Staal picked up a head of steam coming into the Jersey zone and, from the right wing, flashed his 40-goal form by beating Brodeur to the far side for his fifth of the playoffs.
"It was a great shot," said Brodeur, who made 27 saves but was arguably culpable on three of the four Carolina goals. "All series long we didn't let him skate with speed with the puck down the wing, but for whatever reason with no time on the clock we let him do it.
"He made the shot he wanted and beat me clean."
It was the second late-game loss for the Devils in the series. They dropped Game 4 on a goal off Jokinen's foot with 0.2 seconds to play, right after the forward bumped into Brodeur.
"I really don't know what to say. I am shocked, stunned," New Jersey coach Brent Sutter said.
Soft goal gets Canes going
It took all of 2:31 for the teams to score the first two goals.
Riding the momentum that carried them to a 4-0 win in Game 6, the Hurricanes struck just 62 seconds in with a softie on Brodeur, who allowed Ruutu's wrist shot from the right-wing boards to squeeze between his right arm and his body.
Zajac picked up his star goalie with a gorgeous play just 1:29 later. Attracting attention behind the goal line, he spotted a wide-open Langenbrunner out front for an easy tap-in.
Veteran Devils winger Brendan Shanahan did the dirty work on the next goal, taking a hit near the blue line in order to deliver the puck to John Madden, whose perfectly placed saucer pass was redirected home by Pandolfo at 13:27.
But when you're hot, you're hot, and Whitney showed he was just that in squaring the game at 2-2 early in the second. The diminutive winger known to teammates as "the Wizard" flubbed on a Staal feed so badly that the puck bounced weakly off his own left skate and trickled past Brodeur.
Jersey got back in the lead just five minutes later with a little help from Matt Cullen and Patrick Eaves. The former got pinched for a slash that put the Devils on the power-play, and the latter attempted an ill-advised drop pass in the Devils zone that was picked off and spun into a Rolston laser from the left point.