Ward stopped 35 shots, including a handful of breakaways, before Cole tied the game with 4:37 left in regulation and Pitkanen scored with 62 seconds left in overtime as the Hurricanes beat the New York Islanders 3-2 on Friday night.
The come-from-behind win gives the 'Canes 76 points, the same as eighth-place Buffalo in the East. The Sabres own the tie-breaker because they have two games in hand -- they host Atlanta on Saturday and Nashville on Sunday before the Hurricanes play again on Tuesday night against Ottawa.
Ward was flawless after allowing Michael Grabner's rebound goal early in the second period that gave New York a 2-1 lead. The Isles dominated the middle period, outshooting Carolina 17-8, but couldn't get another puck past Ward.
Grabner alone kept Ward busy -- the goaltender had to stop him on three breakaways among the speedy rookie's nine shots on goal.
"To be able to make the saves, those could be game changers," Ward said. "We saw (Grabner) here at the All-Star Game, and he showed us what he can do with all that speed that he has."
The third period was a different story -- the 'Canes outshot New York 14-5 and tied it when Cory Stillman took the puck away from Frans Nielsen behind the Isles' net and fed Cole for a quick snap shot past Al Montoya.
"It was really important as a team that you can find that desperation level, and we found it," said Hurricanes coach Paul Maurice. "To be able to change gears and have some good things start happening is really important, because now we know it's there."
Jeff Skinner, who scored Carolina's first goal, then set up Pitkanen for the winner. He held the puck in the corner, saw Pitkanen beat his defender to the net and fed the defenseman for a blast from the slow that rang off the right post and in
"It's easy to let it creep into your mind, but you've just got to be able to have the confidence that when you get that puck you're going to snap it in," Ward said. "I think Joni had some confidence on that shot."
The Islanders, who've been among the NHL's better teams since the All-Star break, got 32 saves from Montoya but were unable to close out a more desperate opponent.
"Obviously Montoya gave us a chance to win," Islanders coach Jack Capuano said. "He made a couple of big saves. I thought Cam Ward was excellent tonight. He was the first star of the game."
With three days off, it figures to be an anxious weekend of scoreboard-watching in Raleigh.
"I'll watch the scores," Maurice said. "I'm going to run as many superstitions as I possibly can and we'll see how it goes."
Material from team media was used in this report
|Jeff Skinner (25) ASST: Jussi Jokinen (31), Tuomo Ruutu (31)|
1 - 0 CAR
|Frans Nielsen (10) ASST: Michael Grabner (15), Radek Martinek (11)|
1 - 1 Tie
|Michael Grabner (29) ASST: Travis Hamonic (18), Frans Nielsen (30)|
2 - 1 NYI
|Erik Cole (20) ASST: Cory Stillman (21)|
2 - 2 Tie
|Joni Pitkanen (3) ASST: Jeff Skinner (27), Eric Staal (35)|
3 - 2 CAR
|Micheal Haley Interference against Jerome Samson|
|Jay Harrison Hooking against Pierre-Alexandre Parenteau|
|Tim Gleason Cross checking against John Tavares|
|Tim Gleason Roughing against Pierre-Alexandre Parenteau|
|Chad LaRose Hooking against Kyle Okposo|
|John Tavares Interference against Erik Cole|