RALEIGH, N.C. -- Saturday couldn't have started much worse for Wojtek Wolski. And it couldn't have ended much better.
The 26-year-old forward started the day as a New York Ranger, unable to get in the lineup with the best team in the Eastern Conference. So he did what he could as a healthy extra following a groin injury, wearing himself out in a late-morning conditioning skate, followed by a heavy lift.
Finally exhausted, he got word that he had been traded to the Florida Panthers
. So he dragged his weary body onto a plane, arrived in Raleigh at 5:15 then scored a decisive goal with his new Panthers teammates.
"It was a crazy day, but it worked out," he said.
For most of the game, it didn't appear the Panthers would win, let alone have Wolski set up the happy ending. Held scoreless on 30 shots through two periods, Florida seemed down to its last chances.
But with 6:02 remaining, Kris Versteeg
found Tomas Fleischmann
on a cross-ice pass, good for Fleischmann's 20th of the season. Then with less than two minutes remaining, Wolski, who skated with Shawn Matthias
and Mike Santorelli
, cut from the left wing to the middle of the ice and slipped a shot under screened Carolina goaltender Justin Peters
After an end-to-end overtime, Michal Samuelsson and Stephen Weiss
scored in the shootout for a 3-2 win. The Hurricanes fell to 0-6 in shootouts. The Panthers have won all three contests against the Carolina this season.
"You're looking up at the clock -- 35, 40 shots -- and nothing's going in," said Weiss. "Then you get that first goal and it gives you a big boost and it starts snowballing in the right direction."
For more than two periods, it looked like the Panthers might be the hard-luck loser. Justin Faulk
staked the Hurricanes to a 1-0 lead in the first period, one-timing a pass from Eric Staal
In the second, Jussi Jokinen
was left alone in the slot to extend the lead to 2-0. Jeff Skinner
set up the play by stripping the puck from Florida defenseman Mike Weaver
before feeding Jokinen in front.
For the Panthers, who climbed back into first place with 68 points, the quick-hitting goals might be just what they need. They had scored just five in the previous four games.
"We were really aggressive in a lot of aspects of the game," said Florida coach Kevin Dineen. "I made up a word called 'stickwithitness.' It doesn't make a lot of sense, but that's what we did tonight. We kept pushing."
And it didn't hurt that the Panthers' banged-up lineup got a boost from a new teammate with a scoring touch -- a guy who had spent all of his energy early in the day, never expecting to play a game.
"The bag skate was obviously really tough. It takes a lot of energy." said Wolski, who played a conditioning stint with the AHL's Connecticut Whale in early February but hasn't played an NHL game since Jan. 15. "And the lift, you're working your nervous system a lot. I was doing hang cleans and squats, so it is tiring. But I was very excited to be here. I've been really itching to get into a game."
For the Hurricanes, it was the second straight shootout loss, coming two nights after another 3-2 decision to Anaheim.
"I don't think it's a mental thing right now," said Hurricanes coach Kirk Muller. "I don't think we feel like we're going into them with no chance of winning. We have to keep grinding it out."
Hurricanes defensemen Bryan Allen
, who has been steady on the Hurricanes blue line all season, took the loss hard.
"When it's 2-0 like that, it's just tough to take right now and it's tough to give an answer of why (we lost)," Allen said. "They pressed and got lucky and scored two goals. I can't look any further myself. I was on the ice for both goals."
With the schedule winding down and the playoff race remaining tight, the Panthers will take wins however they can get them. And they know it will take a variety of contributions.
"This time of year, you look at the standings and the number of games left," said goaltender Jose Theodore
, who earned the win with a 26-save performance. "Everybody's got to play their best hockey, and it starts with the goalie. So every time I'm out there, I want to give my team a chance to win."
Now the Panthers have one more guy they can count on.