RALEIGH, N.C. -- Just like that, a best-of-7 series has become a best-of-3.
And it really was just like that.
With the final 10 seconds of regulation ticking off the scoreboard, not a soul in the capacity crowd or on the ice could have believed that the Carolina Hurricanes and New Jersey Devils weren't going to need overtime to determine the winner of Game 4 at the RBC Center on Tuesday night.
But Jussi Jokinen's redirection of Dennis Seidenberg's shot from the point found its way past Martin Brodeur with 0.2 seconds remaining, lifting the 'Canes to victory in an unbelievable 4-3 finish. The series shifts to New Jersey Thursday night (7:30 p.m. ET, VERSUS, TSN2, RIS) with each team having won twice.
It capped what was truly a wild game -- one that saw the Devils rally from a 3-0 deficit. Brian Gionta scored with 27.8 seconds left in the second period before Brendan Shanahan and David Clarkson beat Cam Ward in the third to tie things up.
This time, though, there would be no overtime. Games 2 and 3 needed an extra session, but Jokinen made sure it wouldn't happen again when his redirection beat both Brodeur and the buzzer.
"I saw the shot go, and it was in and I hadn't heard a horn or hadn't seen a light to tell me that it had went off and then I looked up and saw the zeros," Carolina coach Paul Maurice said. "Then you're looking for the guy with the headset to tell you that it's a goal or not. We couldn't hear anything, so we just waited like everybody else."
Replays gave the answer the Hurricanes wanted -- and needed. It was a series-tying goal that ended in a fashion that Maurice said he's never experienced either as a coach or a player.
"Not with that much time left," Maurice said. "You can't drop the puck at the end of the game. That's as tight as you can get it."
For the Devils, it's as frustrating and as disappointing as it can get. They seemed doomed when Eric Staal and Ryan Bayda scored in the first and Chad LaRose added a goal in the second to make it a 3-0 game, but New Jersey found a way to fight back.
"It's a little tough, but we've got to be happy with the way we fought back," Devils defenseman Paul Martin said. "I think if we had started the game better, we would have had a different outcome. We gave up too many shots early. To fight back was big, and we're going to take that with us back home."
"It's a 2-2 series and we knew it was going to be a tough one," Devils coach Brent Sutter said. "It's a battle. We had to come in here and win a game, and we did that (in Game 3). We had to get home ice again, and we accomplished that. We lost with 0.2 seconds. (But) there were still a lot of positives here in the last 48 hours."
While the Hurricanes were upset to see a three-goal lead slip away, they certainly weren't surprised that the Devils didn't let up after failing behind like that.
"They're not the third-best team in the Eastern Conference for nothing," LaRose said. "They know what they're doing over there, and that's the way some playoff games go. I'm glad we didn't have to play another second."
They will come Thursday, when this now best-of-3 series resumes in New Jersey. Certainly, Carolina will try to use the first 39-and-a-half minutes to show they have what it takes to oust New Jersey from these playoffs. The 'Canes will also try to correct whatever they did that allowed the Devils to rally.
"This is kind of fitting, it seems this is the way things are going to go," Carolina captain Rod Brind'Amour said. "It's never that easy. For whatever reason, we seem to make things interesting, but, you know what? At the end of the day, it doesn't make any difference."