It's now a best-of-three series between the Carolina Hurricanes and New Jersey Devils after the Hurricanes won Game 4 with less than a second to go at the RBC Center in Raleigh, N.C., on Tuesday.
The Hurricanes' Jussi Jokinen scored the game winner with 0.2 seconds remaining in the third period to make it 4-3 as Carolina won its first NHL playoff game at home since its Stanley Cup-winning run in 2006.
Besides the OT winner scored by Tim Gleason in Game 2, the Hurricanes had not held a lead during their Eastern Conference quarter-final series against the Devils.
However, the Hurricanes were spotted a two-goal advantage Tuesday night in the span of about a minute in the middle of the first period. That was later extended to three before New Jersey came charging back in the latter part of the game, only to lose in the very last second.
"It's a disappointing loss, but we didn't lose anything today," Martin Brodeur said. "We've still got home-ice advantage. We lost a game. That's it."
The first goal came about after Carolina's Tuomo Ruutu fired a shot from the right wing that was tipped by Dennis Seidenberg and juggled by Devils' goalie Martin Brodeur.
Eric Staal, stationed in front of the net, was free to take a couple of whacks at the puck until it found the back of the net for the Hurricanes' first lead, 7:44 into the first.
The second goal came after Carolina's Joni Pitkanen put a shot on the New Jersey net. Scott Walker knocked the cover-up attempt away from Brodeur and then escaped the reach of Devils' defenceman Paul Martin to skate up the end-boards.
Walker spotted a wide-open Ryan Bayda in the slot who slapped it past Brodeur to complete the quick two-goal lead.
Nearing the end of the first, New Jersey began to work the puck into the Hurricanes' end and Devils' sniper Patrik Elias tested Carolina's Cam Ward with a pair of slap shots that Ward handled easily.
More shots, more goals
The Hurricanes escaped the first with the 2-0 lead after out-shooting their opponents 15-7, and after the second period, the Carolina game plan could have been titled "more shots equals more goals."
The middle frame saw a continued effort by the Hurricanes in the offensive end, as they added a goal from Chad LaRose and sent the rubber flying at Brodeur, out-shooting the Devils 22-10 in the period.
The Devils, already down 3-0 in the second, also lost Bryce Salvador in the period following a late scrum in front of the New Jersey net. The burly defenceman got tangled up with Carolina's Matt Cullen and needed help leaving the ice after spending some time writhing in pain and clutching his left knee.
Devils don't give up
However, facing a three-goal deficit with under 30 seconds left in the second, Brian Gionta gave the Devils some hope as he was sprung on a short breakaway by teammate Mike Mottau and scored a sizzling wrister on Ward to make it 3-1.
Early on in the third, Hurricanes forward Erik Cole took a boarding penalty that Brendan Shanahan made him pay for. The veteran knocked in a rebound in front of the Carolina net at the tail end of the man-advantage to make it 3-2.
David Clarkson and the Devils' fourth-line tied the game 8:46 of the third after winning a dogfight to keep the puck in the Carolina zone. The initial shot by Martin was stopped by Ward, but he couldn't hold on to the rebound, which was scooped up by Clarkson and sent top corner.
Then, with 0.2 seconds remaining on the clock, Jokinen was in front of the Devils net screening Brodeur as a Seidenberg shot from the point deflected in off Jokinen's skate, sealing the win for the Hurricanes.
"I knew it was close, so I just tried to get the puck to the net," Seidenberg said. It got there — right after it bounced off the Finn's left skate and past Brodeur's low left side as time expired.
"I felt right away (the puck hit) my skate, and then I saw it just in the net. I didn't hear the buzzer, so I was pretty sure, I was comfortable it was a goal," Jokinen said. "I tried to look at everybody — our coaches, our players — asking if it was a good goal or no. Everybody says, 'I don't know,' so I was really nervous."
After a review, officials determined that the puck crossed the goal line with time remaining.
Jokinen looked to have made contact with Brodeur before the winning shot and the Devils goalie was visibly upset after the game, smashing his stick before leaving the ice.
"'I had time to reset myself.' That's always the same answer. It doesn't matter which referee," Brodeur said. "It's the easy way out for them to say that. It's hard. You want to play your game. You want to do what's right and be in the best position you can.
"With these guys (Carolina), they go to the net. They play hard. I am not complaining about how Carolina is playing. They don't take liberty. They're pretty fair about it. They got to the net. The referee has to do their job. Today was pretty awful."
The series, now tied at two games apiece, shifts to New Jersey for Game 5 on Thursday.