UNIONDALE, N.Y. -- John Tavares and PA Parenteau helped the New York Islanders inch a bit closer to a playoff spot Saturday night.
Tavares broke out of a scoring slump with a pair of goals and an assist, while Parenteau had two assists as the Isles earned a 4-3 victory against the Carolina Hurricanes at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum.
Kevin Poulin, who was recalled on an emergency basis from AHL Bridgeport on Friday, made 33 saves and earned his second win against the Hurricanes in less than three weeks. Poulin was promoted after Evgeni Nabokov came down with the flu on Thursday afternoon.
With the victory, New York (25-25-8) moved within six points of eighth-place Toronto in the Eastern Conference thanks to the Maple Leafs' 6-2 loss at Vancouver on Saturday night. The Isles have a game in hand on Toronto, which will be played Monday afternoon against the Ottawa Senators at the Coliseum.
"At this point now, if we as coaches have to say a lot, we're in trouble," Isles coach Jack Capuano said. "We know the desperation and the desire that we have to have in our game."
Carolina (22-26-11), which entered Saturday's action just one point behind the Islanders, suffered a potentially fatal blow to its playoff hopes as goaltender Cam Ward was forced to leave after the second period due to a lower-body injury. Ward, who stopped 18 of 21 shots, missed two practices earlier this week due to a "slight tweak," according to Carolina coach Kirk Muller. Ward was relieved by Justin Peters at the start of the third.
"He's been playing so well," Muller said of Ward, who will be re-evaluated on Sunday in Carolina. "His game's really elevated in the last three weeks. It's not a secret that there's a lot of good things in our game right now, but he's a big part of that reason. He's really played well. But it's an opportunity for Peters, if that's the case.
"(Ward) thought he was ready to go tonight. We'll keep a close watch on it. He's a valuable part of this group. We don't want to jeopardize anything, so we'll be smart about making sure that we keep an eye on it and he's in when he's ready to go."
The Islanders needed just 2:07 to break a scoreless tie, as Kyle Okposo tallied his 13th goal of the season. Okposo, who was moved back to the second line with Frans Nielsen and Michael Grabner, took a cross-ice feed from the latter and fired a wrister from between the circles past Ward to give New York an early 1-0 lead.
Carolina tied it with 6:13 left in the first on Brandon Sutter's 13th goal of the season. With the teams skating in a 4-on-4 situation, Isles defenseman Aaron Ness got trapped in the neutral zone that prompted a 2-on-1 the other way. Sutter then passed Andrew MacDonald and backhanded Patrick Dwyer's nifty feed past Poulin to make it 1-1.
The momentum gained by the Hurricanes late in the first period carried over into the second, as Jiri Tlusty scored just 15 seconds in to give his club a 2-1 lead. A horrid turnover in the Isles' zone by Mark Eaton was the catalyst, as Jerome Samson intercepted Eaton's pass just inside the blue line before feeding Tlusty for an easy tap-in. It was Tlusty's 14th goal of the season.
Carolina's lead was short-lived, however, as Tavares tied the game at 4:10 in highlight-reel fashion. Tavares, who entered Saturday's action mired in an eight-game scoring drought, took a pass from MacDonald and drove past Hurricanes defenseman Jaroslav Spacek before beating Ward via the forehand to make it 2-2. It was Tavares' 23rd goal of the season and his first since Jan. 31, which also came against Carolina.
"Everyone's done a great job -- especially the last few weeks," Tavares said. "Obviously, It's been up and down, but we're battling and we're still in this thing. We just need to keep it going and find way to (win) a couple in a row here."
The Islanders took their second lead of the night on Nielsen's power-play goal at 8:01. Less than a minute after Tim Brent was whistled for hooking, Nielsen finished a give-and-go with Tavares, as he one-timed the latter's feed from the right circle past Ward to make it 3-2. It was Nielsen's 12th goal of the season.
Parenteau earned the secondary assist on the tally -- his second of the night -- for his 53rd point of the season. The potential unrestricted free agent finished the 2010-11 season with 53 points.
"I'm feeling pretty good on the ice … a lot of confidence," Parenteau said. "Everyone I play with, they're really good players and they make life easy for me. I think I'm managing the puck a little better this year than last year. I'm just trying to help the team win. At the end of the day, that's what it's all about. We're having a good time right now."
The Hurricanes rallied to tie it again as Spacek tallied his third goal of the season at 10:58 of the second. Spacek, who also scored in last Monday's 5-3 win at Montreal, collected the puck near the left point after Eric Staal won a faceoff and fired a low slap shot that found its way past Poulin to make it 3-3.
But Carolina was forced to start the third period without Ward, and it didn't take long for the Hurricanes to feel the effects of his absence.
Tavares gave New York the lead for a third time just 38 seconds into the third period with his second goal of the night. Moments after feeding Matt Moulson in the slot on a golden opportunity that was denied by Peters, Tavares drove to the net and swatted the rebound over the goal line to make it 4-3.
"To tell you the truth, when Johnny passed me that one, it kind of screwed me up because I wound up and saw a different mask and different equipment," Moulson said of the goalie change. "Maybe I need to pay attention a little more, but I didn't expect it. It really threw me for a loop."
The Hurricanes will attempt to bounce back -- perhaps without their world-class goaltender -- on Monday night, when they'll begin a six-game homestand against the Washington Capitals.
"Any time you lose a player like Cam, it's difficult," Staal said. "But I don't think that was the difference in third period. I thought Petey was pretty good. He made a couple of 2-on-1 saves and battled hard in there for us. We just didn't have quite enough."
Follow Brian Compton on Twitter: @BComptonNHL