RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) - The Carolina Hurricanes have much bigger goals than simply making the playoffs as they wrap up the best regular season in franchise history.
Still, qualifying for the postseason is the first step, one they officially took Monday night.
"Obviously, the goal is to win the Stanley Cup," coach Peter Laviolette said. "But there's a road that you have to go down to get there, and there's 82 games on it. You have to play all of them, and if you have to play them, you might as well win them."
Few have done it better so far.
Mark Recchi scored his first goal for Carolina, Martin Gerber made 23 saves and the Hurricanes reached 100 points with a 2-1 victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Cory Stillman also scored as Carolina moved ahead of Nashville for the best home record in the NHL. This performance was much better than the one Saturday, when Washington dominated throughout and handed them only their second loss at the RBC Center since Feb. 10.
They moved within two points of Ottawa for the best record in the Eastern Conference, and it wasn't sealed until Gerber made one more save in the final seconds on Ruslan Fedotenko.
"They moved it around, and they got the back door chance they were looking for," Laviolette said. "Marty was really keen to know to know the guy was there and get over to cover the low one."
Now, the Hurricanes have a 19-point lead over the second-place Lightning in the Southeast Division with 11 games left. The cushion should come in handy, too, because Carolina continues to play with injuries throughout the lineup.
Center Doug Weight and defensemen Bret Hedican and Niclas Wallin sat out for the third straight game with lower-body injuries, leaving the Hurricanes with 226 games lost to injuries. But with Recchi finally tallying a point, they had enough to improve to 3-3 against Tampa Bay this season.
The Lightning are sixth in the East, two points head of New Jersey and Montreal.
"Tampa Bay's fighting for a playoff spot, and we played more desperately than they did," Recchi said. "That's a good sign, that says a lot about your hockey team."
The veteran right wing arrived in a trade with Pittsburgh nearly three weeks ago and went scoreless in the first eight games. He broke that drought by converting a 5-on-3 in the second period to break a 1-1 tie, scooping a rebound over the glove of goaltender John Grahame for his 25th goal of the season.
"No matter how long you've been around, you want to come in and fit in," Recchi said. "Part of my game is producing, and part of my game is playing with energy, too. I understand that, and it took a little longer than I would have liked."
Stillman, who helped the Lightning win the Stanley Cup in the season before the lockout, gave Carolina the lead less than 5 minutes into the first period. He chased down the puck behind the net and fed it back in front to Matt Cullen, who had his shot stopped by Grahame.
But Stillman was there for the carom and put it in to make it 1-0.
Tampa Bay got the equalizer by taking advantage of its own two-man advantage early in the second period. It was set up when Cory Sarich took a shot after an offsides call already stopped play. Hurricanes captain Rod Brind'Amour took exception and shoved Sarich in the face to draw a roughing penalty, and he joined teammate Aaron Ward in the penalty box.
"That's a difference in the game, those are huge calls for nothing," Brind'Amour said. "That's when it gets frustrating. I've played a lot of years, and they don't call 5-on-3s on cheap penalties like that."
Martin St. Louis beat Gerber with a one-timer from the point to tie it, before Recchi gave Carolina the lead again.
The Lightning lost defenseman Pavel Kubina to a lower-body injury, leaving them even more short-handed on the blue line. Dan Boyle didn't even dress after he hurt his right ankle Saturday night against the New York Rangers, and is listed as day to day.
"I thought we played hard, considering the adversity we're fighting here," St. Louis said. "We fought hard, just didn't get the second goal. But every game is huge right now, so we'll get ready for the next one."
Coach John Torterella saw it differently.
"I thought we had some great efforts from some forwards. I thought we had some (poor) efforts from others," he said in a terse postgame session with reporters. "That's it. I'm done."
Notes: The goal gave Stillman 499 career points. ... Tampa Bay nearly lost another defenseman in the first period, when Darryl Sydor went down after a check from Ward. After being helped from the ice, Sydor stayed on the bench and later returned. ... Carolina D Glen Wesley played in his 1,300th career game.
|Cory Stillman (19) ASST: Matt Cullen (21)|
1 - 0 CAR
|PPG - Martin St. Louis (25) ASST: Cory Sarich (13), Brad Richards (58)|
1 - 1 Tie
|PPG - Mark Recchi (25) ASST: Chad LaRose (11), Oleg Tverdovsky (20)|
2 - 1 CAR
|Paul Ranger Holding the stick against Matt Cullen|
|Frantisek Kaberle Hooking against Dimitri Afanasenkov|
|Aaron Ward Tripping against Martin St. Louis|
|Rod Brind'Amour Roughing against Cory Sarich|
|Anton Babchuk Too many men/ice - bench|
|Nolan Pratt Tripping against Eric Staal|
|Martin Cibak Tripping against Matt Cullen|
|Vincent Lecavalier Tripping against Chad LaRose|
|Glen Wesley Hooking against Dimitri Afanasenkov|
|Doug O'Brien Tripping against Justin Williams|
|Eric Staal Interference against Vincent Lecavalier|