"It's funny how it matches with team vs. team," said Hurricanes coach Kirk Muller, whose club is 11-1-2 in its past 14 visits to Nassau Coliseum." They've got a good hockey team and they're a good skating team. We kind of feel like that is our style as well."
Khudobin, playing in his second game after missing more than two months with a lower-body injury, was especially sharp in the third period, stopping 15 of 16 shots as the Islanders made a late push. He has won all four decisions this season.
"At the end, when the score was 3-1, I knew they were going to come," Khudobin said. "They were shooting everything and everywhere."
The Hurricanes have won three in a row after losing five straight.
"It's been a gutsy three games," Muller said. "The guys really shut it down well at the end. I felt pretty comfortable about the way we played in the third. We protected the lead, we were good without the puck, we defended well."
Evgeni Nabokov made 27 saves for the Islanders (14-22-7), who had won three in a row and were coming off a 3-2 overtime victory against the defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks on Thursday.
The best player during the scoreless first period was Khudobin, who stopped all 10 shots he faced. He robbed Ryan Strome on a rebound try midway through the period, then foiled Kyle Okposo on a 2-on-1 with 2:40 remaining. Okposo cut around the defense and swept left-to-right through the slot, but Khudobin stayed with him and got his arm and glove up high enough to deny Okposo's wrister.
The Islanders, who entered last in the NHL in killing penalties, had little trouble killing off back-to-back minors early in the second period. But a turnover by Andrew MacDonald behind his net 20 seconds after Thomas Hickey's penalty expired led to the game's first goal. Carolina's Patrick Dwyer took the puck away from MacDonald and swept a pass to Malhotra for a quick one-timer over Nabokov's glove at 6:57.
The lead lasted 44 seconds. Tavares picked off a bad pass by Drayson Bowman in the Carolina zone and played give-and-go with Vanek before tucking the puck behind Khudobin at 7:41 for his 17th goal of the season. The assist stretched Vanek's point streak to eight games.
Carolina (17-16-9) took advantage of a blown defensive coverage by the Islanders to regain the lead at 13:12. Dwyer worked the puck free along the left boards and found an unchecked Staal all by himself in the slot. He took one stride and snapped a shot past Nabokov for his ninth of the season and a 2-1 lead.
"That's on me," said Vanek, who thought the play was offside. "It's a missed assignment. And then we lost the momentum for a few minutes and we're down another."
More Islanders mistakes led to another Carolina goal 57 seconds later. Calvin de Haan's attempted dump-in appeared to hit a skate at the blue line and triggered an odd-man rush the other way. Nabokov stopped Jeff Skinner's wide-open blast, but no one picked up Sutter, who backhanded the rebound into the net at 14:09 for his first goal of the season and second in the NHL.
"You look at two of their goals, and we had the puck" New York coach Jack Capuano said. "Our puck decisions are what get us in trouble."
The Islanders tested Khudobin throughout the final five minutes, but their only goal came on a deflection by Vanek after Alexander Semin was penalized for unsportsmanlike conduct.
"We had too many guys that were nonchalant," Capuano said after the Islanders fell to 1-5-4 in their past 10 home games. "We didn't have all 20 guys. We can't have nights like that."
The Hurricanes lost captain Eric Staal with a lower-body injury in the second period. He played 11 shifts and saw 9:48 of ice time before leaving. Muller said Staal would be assessed to see if he will be able to play against the Nashville Predators on Sunday in Raleigh.
Material from team media was used in this report