RALEIGH -- Hurricanes goaltender Justin Peters has never had an easy road in the NHL.
In three seasons, he has gone from a promising callup to a seldom-used backup, then back to an American Hockey League mainstay. With 23 career NHL games under his belt entering Friday night's start against San Jose, Peters felt the pressure of showing Carolina that he could handle the job.
"Obviously there are some nerves out there," he said, after making just his third start of season.
But unlike the first two -- a pair of road losses during an 11-day span stretching over December and January -- Peters was able to emerge with a win, a 3-2 decision over San Jose that lifted the Hurricanes to a 8-2-4 mark in their past 14 games.
The Hurricanes seemed to have the game in control with a 2-0 lead heading into the third period. But San Jose struck for two quick goals from Dan Boyle and Brett Burns to tie the game. Hurricanes forward Jussi Jokinen got Carolina off the hook with the eventual game-winner at 11:55. Jokinen's goal kept the Hurricanes month-long momentum going, but it also restored the goaltender's confidence a bit.
Peters spent last season as Cam Ward's fulltime backup. But a 3.98 goals-against average in 12 appearances led Carolina to sign Brian Boucher to a two-year contract, effectively blocking Peters' path back to the NHL. However, a lower-body injury that has sidelined Boucher for much of the season earned Peters another shot in the NHL, even if only a temporary one.
So when Burns scored the tying goal, a short-sider that Peters should have stopped, it looked like Peters' tenuous hold on an NHL job was in jeopardy again.
"You never want a lead to slip away, but once it happens, it's over and done with," he said.
That was the last shaky moment of the game for the Hurricanes' 2004 second-round draft pick. The Sharks were feeding over the final minutes. Joe Thornton got off two good shots, then Logan Couture tested Peters from the right circle. Boyle got a shot off from his knees.
Then came Peters' signature moment -- a game-saving stop with his left pad against Patrick Marleau, who seemed to have the upper hand at the right post. Peters credited the defensemen in front of him.
"I think it was (Tim) Gleason or (Bryan) Allen that took a lot off the shot," he said. "I know we had an open net. They were able to get in the lane somehow and get a lot of it."
But it was the goaltender's sprawl that saved the game. San Jose had an even better chance to tie the game in the dying seconds, but Thornton fanned on an open net while camped out on the right side of the crease.
Coming up empty after a late flourish was little consolation to San Jose, which suffered a 6-5 overtime loss on Thursday night at Tampa Bay -- a performance that drew the wrath of coach Todd McLellan.
"We were better defensively, but it was a different game," McLellan said. "The goaltending was better. I thought we lacked a lot energy and jump and determination. In the first two periods, we didn't win a lot of races to the pucks. We didn't establish body position around them. They were better and stronger than we were."
The Hurricanes came out of the gate quickly with two first-period goals. Jeff Skinner took advantage of two sloppy clearing attempts behind the San Jose net, firing a puck from the goal line off Boyle and into the net at 7:31.
Just over three minutes later, Justin Faulk -- Carolina's other 19-year old -- took a Jiri Tlusty pass across the slot and sent it past San Jose goaltender Thomas Greiss for his fifth goal of the season, his third on the power play.
The Sharks entered the third period trailing 2-0, but Boyle's shot from the top of the slot slipped by the right pad of Peters at 1:26, followed by Burns' short-side snapper to tie the game at 3:52.
With the momentum tilting toward the Sharks, the Hurricanes cashed in the game-winner off Jokinen's stick. From the high slot, he redirected Jamie McBain's shot from the right point.
Coach Kirk Muller has added an emphasis on such plays since he took over behind the bench in late November.
"Usually when we practice it, it's 5-against-0," Jokinen said. "(In the game) there are five other guys to defend the play. It's a tough play, but we were able to get it done."
By picking up the win, the Hurricanes did the same for their goaltender. With Boucher due to return soon from his lower-body injury, Peters knows his immediate future in the NHL might be short. But Friday night's win, the 10th of his NHL career, was one more chance to learn how to play the NHL game. In the past, his rare appearances have sometimes led to overly aggressive play -- and bad outcomes.
Not on this night, however.
"It's something I'm trying to control," Peters admitted. "My athleticism and my competitiveness have been my strength and my weakness at times. You get so excited to get an opportunity out there, and you've got to try and balance it. I'm trying to learn how to do it."
It's one more win for Peters' resume, one more chance to leave an impression on his coach. Muller took notice.
"Everything was going well, and all of a sudden, a tough third (period)," Muller said. "But he kept his composure and made the big saves at the end. He just battled through a really tough game and a team that throws everything at the net. That's a big win for him."
The same can be said for the Hurricanes. Their late-season surge has not helped them climb close to the playoff contenders, but the team's outlook is positive.
"First of all, we've got a little bit of confidence," Skinner said. "Obviously, the hard work is there. When you combine those two, you can string together some good games."