The Carolina Hurricanes
are staying right on the heels of the Buffalo Sabres in the race for an Eastern Conference playoff berth.
The 'Canes stayed three points behind Buffalo on Friday night as Eric Cole scored a pair of goals in a 4-3 victory at Tampa Bay in the front end of a home-and-home series.
Cole put the Hurricanes up 2-1 with a power-play goal at 8:23 of the second period and added an unassisted goal on a backhander 6:50 into the third to help Carolina win its third straight game.
Captain Eric Staal scored for the first time in eight games to give Carolina a 4-1 lead, connecting on a power play with 7:40 left in the third. Tampa Bay cut the deficit to one goal y scoring twice in a 52-second span on a goal by Vincent Lecavalier and Simon Gagne's second power-play score, but the rally came up short -- much to the relief of Carolina coach Paul Maurice.
"Regardless our situation in the standings, that would've been a tough loss, given how our hockey club played for, oh, I don't know, 56 minutes," Maurice said. "I was real pleased with the effort we got out of everyone."
Gagne opened the scoring at 7:12 of the first period on Tampa Bay's second power-play opportunity.
Jeff Skinner tied it at 12:52. The rookie center has scored at least one point in each of the first four games in the season series, which resumes Saturday night in Raleigh.
The second period belonged to Carolina, as Cole scored the go-ahead goal and the 'Canes limited the Lightning to only three shots on Cam Ward.
"When you don't shoot, you don't create momentum, and you don't create chaos in the offensive zone," Lightning coach Guy Boucher said. "We can't sustain any pressure, and that's what they did. They shot from everywhere."
Ward stopped 18 shots, while Dwayne Roloson had to make 35 saves for Tampa Bay.
"We still feel like we did good things at the end, but they get paid, too," Cole said. "They're an explosive offensive team ... but Cam held down the fort for us, and we were able to buckle down and get two big points."
Tampa Bay, which led the Southeast Division for much of the season, has lost four consecutive games and is 2-6-4 this month. The Lightning have lost their knack for winning close games, having dropped eight of the last nine decided by one goal after going 10-0-2 in such contests.
Material from wire services was used in this report