- Carolina defenseman Joni Pitkanen
admitted that his team might have lost more than a little focus in the final 15 minutes of Saturday's game against the Coyotes - and suddenly, a secure 3-0 lead was gone.
"I think maybe our legs were already on the plane," Pitkanen said.
After 24 days and 15,000 miles of travel, it was hard to blame them. But in the end, it was safe to put Carolina on their minds after Pitkanen fed Anton Babchuk for the game-winning goal 2:52 into overtime to give the Hurricanes a wild 4-3 win over Phoenix.
As a result, the final plane ride on their long, strange trip was a happy one.
"We had to win the game all over again," said Pitkanen, who had two assists and played a game-high 26:07. "We have to learn to play the whole 60 minutes. In the third period we got on our heels and tried to do it all with the defense."
It didn't work. The Hurricanes built a 3-0 lead on a shorthanded goal by Patrick Dwyer and a power-play rebound by Jussi Jokinen in the second period and an even-strength tally by Sergei Samsonov early in the third.
But second-year center Kyle Turris, demoted to the fourth line to start Saturday's game, was paired with Wojtek Wolski and Scottie Upshall in the third period and caught fire.
Turris scored his first goal of the season at 5:45 of the third with a wicked wrist shot, then made it 3-2 with 2:02 left to give the Coyotes life. Just 22 seconds later, Turris collected the puck when Carolina goalie Cam Ward misplayed it behind the net and fed Upshall, who put the game-tying goal into an empty net to cap a wild comeback for Phoenix.
"I just tried to hit Ward's stick and give him a hard time when he played the puck," said Turris, who earned his first three points of the season during the comeback. "Luckily, he ended up missing it and I just tried to throw it in front. It was a great third period, but definitely not the game we wanted to play."
Nor the overtime. After the Coyotes failed to capitalize on their chances, Pitkanen took a pass from Jokinen and found Babchuk streaking for the far post and Carolina ended their seven-game odyssey which included stops in Russia, Finland, Ottawa and four Western Conference cities with a 4-3-0 record. The Hurricanes play their home opener against Washington at the RBC Center on Wednesday night.
"We gave them a point, but fortunately it didn't cost us two points," Ward said. "The guys bailed me out. It's been mentally challenging for everybody, just with all the travel. To go home 4-3 … the boys will be happy about that."
Phoenix coach Dave Tippett wasn't as pleased especially with a second period that saw his team's struggling power play -- which hasn't scored since Eric Belanger converted their first chance of the season on Oct. 10 in Prague -- not only fail twice more but give up a shorthanded goal on a breakaway. Dwyer blocked a Derek Morris shot from the point, cruised in and beat Phoenix goalie Ilya Bryzgalov over the shoulder.
The Coyotes were outshot 13-4 in the period and allowed a second goal when Jokinen swept in a power-play rebound. Without Shane Doan (suspension) and Martin Hanzal (injury), the other Coyotes didn't pick up the slack until Turris caught fire.
The Coyotes have just six points in their first six games this season (2-2-2), and aren't playing the cohesive style than made them the surprise team in the NHL last season, when the earned a franchise-record 107 points.
"If you would have told me with three minutes left in that game that we'd get a point I would have been jumping up and down," Tippett said. "But I look at the big picture, and how we're going to be successful as a team. And that wasn't good enough tonight."