RALEIGH -- When Carolina and the New York Islanders met Tuesday night, there was no escaping the most obvious significance of the game: the winner would escape last place in the Eastern Conference.
So as New York's Matt Moulson fielded postgame questions after the Islanders win, he jumped the gun on the first question. He raised his head, smiled and blurted out, "We're not in last place anymore."
The Islanders tied the game twice in the third period before PA Parenteau and Frans Nielsen delivered shootout goals for a 4-3 win over Carolina. It was the third straight victory for New York, after home wins against Calgary and Edmonton.
The Islanders (14-17-6) are one point in front of the Hurricanes, and just one point behind 13th-place Montreal.
"No one wants to be in last place," said Parenteau, who scored the first goal of the shootout. "We're not looking behind right now. We've got to play a little better than that if we're going to catch these teams. But I think we have the team to do it, to get on a good ride right now."
To a man, the Islanders lamented the quality of their team play against Carolina — but no one seemed too concerned about style points.
"We've got to jump one team at a time," said Moulson, whose goal from the high slot in the first period opened the scoring. "We need to get points in games like tonight, where we didn't have our best game. (Evgeni) Nabokov made some big saves and we were able to claw back and get two points."
Nabokov finished the night with 37 saves before stopping Eric Staal and Chad LaRose in the shootout. Jussi Jokinen, Carolina's first shooter, managed to score on a shot that trickled past the Islanders netminder. Cam Ward stopped 33 shots for the Hurricanes.
Trailing 2-1 entering the third period, the Islanders quickly scored their second power-play goal of the night. Mark Streit's shot came off the end boards right to the stick of Frans Nielsen, who had no trouble finding an open net.
The Hurricanes looked like they might put away the Islanders with 4:14 remaining in regulation when LaRose scored on a nice individual effort in the slot, but the Islanders struck again with 90 seconds remaining. With two assists already to his credit, John Tavares circled the Carolina net and made a beautiful pass across the crease to Kyle Okposo, who tied the game 3-3.
"I just tried to shake the D coming around the net," said Tavares, who has 34 points in 37 games. "I took a quick peek and saw Kyle in the high slot and noticed he had momentum going toward the back post. I had a good feeling he was going to get there."
Okposo confirmed that there was a bit of chemistry on the play.
"We kind of made eye contact as he went around the net," Okposo said. "So I just tried to find a hole. He was able to hit me through about eight skates. Great pass."
Islanders coach Jack Capuano echoed the sentiments about a less-than-stellar effort, but he gave credit to the Hurricanes as well.
"(Carolina) played extremely hard," the New York coach said. "They were smart -- they got pucks deep all night long. They could have easily won that game. Maybe we didn't play that well, but give them a lot of credit. They were winning the battles the first two periods."
For Carolina, which also had goals from Anthony Stewart and Brandon Sutter, the halfway point in the season is marked by a 13-21-7 record. Little has gone right for the Canes.
"When you make mistakes in this League, you're going to pay for it, especially when you have a lead," said Hurricanes forward Jussi Jokinen. "This has been really disappointing. We're not in the position we wanted to be in — not even close."
"We had chances and we didn't capitalize," said Carolina coach Kirk Muller. "We let them hang around, and they have some good offensive players and they came back. There were a few plays at the end where we needed to be a little more desperate."
For one night anyway, the critical edge in desperation belonged to the Islanders.
"You're not going to win in this league with just skill," said Moulson. "There are too many skill guys who work hard as well. For us, it's about bringing that skill level, along with the work ethic and being intense every shift."
1 - 0 NYI
1 - 1 Tie
2 - 1 CAR
2 - 2 Tie
3 - 2 CAR