RALEIGH, N.C. -- After a three-goal outburst tied the game early in the third period, Alexander Semin snapped a shot past Montreal Canadiens goalie Carey Price with 1:33 left in overtime to give the Carolina Hurricanes an improbable come-from-behind 5-4 win Tuesday night.
The Hurricanes were not quite a desperate hockey team coming into their New Year's Eve game against Montreal, but they were getting close.
General manager Jim Rutherford called out the team Monday before trading popular enforcer Kevin Westgarth to the Calgary Flames. The message was clear: Going winless in eight of the past nine games was not going to cut it.
So when the Hurricanes fell behind 3-0 after two periods, things really looked grim.
"We had a really good discussion between the second and the third," center Manny Malhotra said. "We had a decision to make: Either let this one slip away and try and regroup for the next game, or play through it and stay with our game plan."
The Hurricanes had been 0-3-2 in their previous five games, and although they have kept pace in the Eastern Conference with points from nine overtime losses, they needed the lift that comes from a two-point night.
"It's huge," Carolina coach Kirk Muller said. "We had to trade a really popular guy yesterday. These things don't go unnoticed with guys. Who knows if that's (why) we came out a little slow.
"It's a tribute to our players and our leaders. We said, 'Hey guys, there's two things we can do. We can just play this out, or we can go for it. This could be the period that turns the season around, or we can finish it up the way it was the first two periods.' They played hard and didn't want to quit."
Jeff Skinner scored to get the Hurricanes on the board at 1:38 of the third period with a nice move in the left circle to beat Price to the far post. He scored his team-leading 16th goal from the right circle at 2:15 to cut the Canadiens' lead to 3-2.
Captain Eric Staal finished off a loose puck in front at 4:07 to complete a three-goal comeback in a span of 2:29. The rally stood in stark contrast from the first two periods, when Carolina couldn't capitalize on 10:14 of power-play time.
"It's tough when you get that many chances on the power play and you can't get anything off of it," said Skinner, who also picked up an assist on Staal's goal. "It's a relief to get one, then to get the second one right after it was nice too."
Malhotra scored at 8:16 to give the Hurricanes a 4-3 lead, but Montreal defenseman P.K. Subban answered two minutes later on the power play to even the score at 4-4.
The Hurricanes killed off a double minor for boarding and unsportsmanlike conduct against Staal at the end of the third period and early in overtime before Semin's game-winner.
"Especially in the third period, our momentum carried," said Staal, who had three points. "And when this building gets excited and energized, it's a lot of fun to play for them. Your energy, your tempo, your pace - everything picks ups. You can feel that, and you feed off it."
For the first two periods, that energy was nowhere to be found in PNC Arena. Until the wild third period, Montreal seemed in control of the outcome.
Lars Eller's ninth goal of the season put the Canadiens on top 1:20 into the game. Alex Galchenyuk forced a turnover behind the net then pushed a pass to Eller, who slipped the puck past Hurricanes goaltender Cam Ward on the backhand.
Max Pacioretty made it 2-0 at 7:46 when he redirected a pass from David Desharnais from the right circle. The goal came on an abbreviated power play after the teams had skated 4-on-4 for 1:20.
Montreal didn't show much discipline in the first 20 minutes, taking four minor penalties. Price was sharp though, especially during a 37-second sequence of 5-on-3 when he stopped scoring bids by Semin and Jordan Staal.
The penalty-box traffic continued in the second period for Montreal. A bench minor for too many men on the ice quickly followed a slashing penalty by Galchenyuk, leaving Carolina with 1:45 of a two-man advantage. But Montreal was equal to the task, blocking shots and keeping the Hurricanes away from the crease. The Canadiens finished with 34 blocks.
Pacioretty's second goal of the night at 14:24 pushed the Montreal lead to 3-0.
"We were ready to play, but we lost discipline and momentum from our team," Montreal coach Michel Therrien said. "We have been disciplined most of the time, and this is the first time I have seen that. There were some calls that were hard to take."
Therrien acknowledged that spending so much time on the penalty kill finally took a toll in the third period. Montreal was called for 10 penalties.
"The penalties take all the momentum away that we got," Therrien said. "When you end up losing the momentum, it is tough to get it back."
The Hurricanes (15-16-9) hope they can ride some of the momentum they built in the third period and overtime.
"A lot of guys in that room probably feel really good about themselves individually and as a team," Muller said. "That's a huge win to build some momentum going into the new year."
Carolina outshot Montreal 42-25, including 30-12 during the final two periods.