ATLANTA - Carolina Hurricanes coach Paul Maurice is a hard man to please.
With Thursday's 3-2 shootout win over Atlanta at Philips Arena, the Hurricanes put together their first three-game winning streak of the season and earned their ninth point of a possible 12 over their last six games (4-1-1) -- yet Maurice would not concede that the 'Canes have momentum.
For the second straight night, Carolina rallied from a multi-goal deficit on the road more than halfway through the game. Goalie Cam Ward was a huge factor, stopping 45 of 47 shots just one day after being pulled 1:42 into a 4-3 win over Florida in which he allowed two goals on five shots.
In that game, Carolina trailed Florida 3-0 before Erik Cole got them at the board at 14:39 of the second period. Carolina had not rallied from a third-period deficit all season until that game. Thursday made it twice in a row.
Are they on a roll?
"We'll see," Maurice said. "We're going to end up playing four (games) in six (days) later this week. At least we found a belief to fight, which is such a huge piece of surviving and when you're faced with adversity you can find a way ...
"You can always find fault and find mistakes, but I'm pretty proud of what they were able to do in that room."
Hurricanes captain Eric Staal, who tied the game six minutes into the third period, rallying his team back from a 2-0 deficit at second intermission, said he saw fire in the eyes of Ward.
"I think it's fair to say that," said Ward, who improved to 13-9 after entering with a 2.60 goals-against average and .923 save percentage. "Obviously, I was disappointed with leaving last night's game two minutes into the game, but I think it makes it easier to overcome when the boys were able to bail me out and come up with the big win and we can kind of joke about it now like maybe it was a planned thing. Justin Peters came in did an excellent job in getting that comeback win and maybe I was just resting for tonight."
Maurice almost hinted that the quick hook was designed to motivate Ward, a Stanley Cup-winning goaltender. He liked the goalie's response.
"The challenge, then, is keep him like that," Maurice said. "All great players are like that. They don't like to be embarrassed, they don't like to be showed up - and I don't feel like I did that in the game last night - but he would take that and, a lot of pride, and good for him."
With the comeback, Carolina denied Southeast Division foe Atlanta a share of first place in the division. The Thrashers lost for the second straight night in a shootout; they've lost their last four shootouts after winning their first one this season.
The Thrashers are 10-2-2 in their last 14 and sit just one point behind Washington, which has just two points in losing its last seven (0-5-2).
"We would love to be in first place - it would be a wonderful accomplishment for this group," Thrashers coach Craig Ramsay said. "In all honesty, if somebody didn't tell me the other day I wouldn't know ... We'd love to be in first place at the end of year, you can bet your bottom dollar on that one, but right now we want to play good hockey."
Ramsay was disappointed that the Thrashers were not able to get one more goal out of numerous quality scoring chances. In the first period, they had a 4-on-3 for 90 seconds but only got one shot out of it.
"We didn't set up correctly," Ramsay said of the 4-on-3. "We looked for something else right off the bat. We had our chance. You've got to get something out of that. You've at least got to get a couple of opportunities."
The Thrashers opened the scoring at 8:45 of the second after Ward stopped their first 22 shots. Just 10 seconds after having a goal disallowed as the officials ruled that Nik Antropov made illegal contact with Ward in the crease, the Thrashers made one count. Entering Carolina's zone off the rush, Anthony Stewart passed from the right boards to the slot where Evander Kane quickly snapped a shot past Ward for his 10th of the season.
That power-play goal broke a streak of 15 straight power plays without a conversion for the Thrashers, who entered with the League's No. 7 power play.
Linemates Kane and Stewart connected again 10:11 later in the period. They initially botched a 3-on-1 rush, but Kane retrieved the puck from behind the net and Stewart jammed at it about three times, finally connecting for his ninth goal of the season.
Carolina made its comeback possible with a goal just 26 seconds into the third period. Chris Mason stopped Jamie McBain's point shot but Brandon Sutter, recently moved into a second-line role with Jussi Jokinen and Tuomo Ruutu, batted the rebound out of the air.
Staal tied the game at 6:00 with an unassisted goal. The puck came to Stewart along the wall in his zone but, unable to get it out while mixed up with Joni Pitkanen, it squirted towards Staal in the slot. Staal saw it coming and pirouetted beautifully into a slap shot that beat Mason to the glove side.
"I put a lot of wood on it," Staal said. "That was the second one I had on him. The first one hit him in the collarbone and that one I wanted to move it over a little bit more and got it by his glove."
That set the stage for the shootout. Antropov scored in the first round to put the Thrashers ahead, but Jussi Jokinen scored against Mason in the second and Samsonov put the puck through Mason's legs in the third round for the win after Ward stopped Dustin Byfuglien's 15-foot slap shot.
In the first period, Carolina lost center Jiri Tlusty to an apparent shoulder injury after Atlanta's Ben Eager received a penalty for charging Tlusty. Tlusty wore a sling around the shoulder under his suit after the game. Maurice said Tlusty was out for longer than a day-to-day basis but would not speculate any more until Tlusty was evaluated.
|PPG - Evander Kane (10) ASST: Anthony Stewart (9), Johnny Oduya (10)|
1 - 0 ATL
|Anthony Stewart (9) ASST: Evander Kane (9), Dustin Byfuglien (22)|
2 - 0 ATL
|Brandon Sutter (7) ASST: Tuomo Ruutu (13), Jamie McBain (7)|
2 - 1 ATL
|Eric Staal (13) ASST: Joni Pitkanen (15)|
2 - 2 Tie
|1||N. Antropov||J. Skinner|
|2||B. Little||J. Jokinen|
|3||D. Byfuglien||S. Samsonov|
|Ben Eager Charging against Jiri Tlusty|
|Erik Cole Tripping against Brent Sopel|
|Jeff Skinner Tripping against Toby Enstrom|
|Eric Boulton Interference on goalkeeper against Cam Ward|
|Ben Eager Fighting (maj) against Troy Bodie|
|Ben Eager Misconduct (10 min) against Troy Bodie|
|Troy Bodie Fighting (maj) against Ben Eager|
|Erik Cole Holding against Toby Enstrom|
|Joni Pitkanen Holding against Rich Peverley|