The Carolina Hurricanes were finally rewarded for their refusal to give up.
Carolina trailed 3-0 after one period, 4-2 in the third and 5-4 after Toronto's Ian White scored with 29.9 seconds left in regulation. But Eric Cole tied the game with 2.9 seconds left before the final horn, and shootout goals by Tuomo Ruutu and Jussi Jokinen gave the Hurricanes an improbable 6-5 win over the Maple Leafs on Thursday night.
Manny Legace stopped Phil Kessel and Lee Stempniak in the shootout as the Hurricanes won for the second time in three games after losing 14 in a row. They've played three consecutive shootouts and four games in a row that have gone past regulation. Carolina hasn't won in regulation since Oct. 9 -- both of its most recent wins were shootouts -- and have overcome three-goal deficits to force OT twice in a week.
"I know that we have it in this team," Ruutu said, "and today, we showed it."
It looked like White had given the Leafs the game-winner when he converted Nikolai Kulemin's passout with less than 30 seconds remaining. But the Hurricanes got Legace to the bench for an extra attacker, and Cole hit a half-empty net after Joe Corvo's slapper hit a body in front of goaltender Jonas Gustavsson and deflected right to him.
For a team that had nothing go right for a month, it was a welcome break.
"We've got tension. We've got a lot of disappointment in there for where we're at, but they haven't splintered and they haven't quit on each other," coach Paul Maurice said. "The players still fight. The players still believe, and they compete."
Toronto (3-11-6) lost its fifth in a row and fell one point behind Carolina (4-12-5) into last place in the overall standings.
"We definitely let one get away there," center Matt Stajan said. "It's been the story all year. ... Nothing's going right. We score a goal late, it seems like things are going to turn, and they get one with 2 seconds left. I'm kind of at a loss for words.
"You shouldn't lose a hockey game where you have a 3-0 lead, let alone one with a lead with 3 seconds left."
The Leafs started the game as if they'd forecheck the 'Canes into oblivion. After Alex Ponikarovsky knocked Joe Corvo off the puck, Stajan ripped a shot past Legace 61 seconds into the game. Stempniak was wide-open racing down the right side and beat Legace with a rocket from just inside the right circle at 14:21, and Mikhail Grabovski capped a terrific sequence by Toronto's forecheckers when he banged home the rebound of Jason Blake's shot at 18:26.
It was only the third time this season that the Leafs scored first, and the first time they got the first two goals in a game.
The Hurricanes looked lifeless until late in the second period, when Stephane Yelle and Matt Cullen scored 47 seconds apart to make it 3-2. But the Leafs appeared to have regained control when Ponikarovsky came down left wing, cut inside the defense and whipped home a backhander 3:43 into the third.
However, Carolina then got two goals from an unlikely source -- defenseman Tim Gleason, who didn't score during the regular season in 2008-09.
Gleason made a nice keep at the left point, took a step to his right and fired a slap shot that went through traffic and past Gustavsson at 8:08. He then tied it with a power-play goal at 11:56 by sneaking down from the left point and snapping Brandon Sutter's perfect pass into the near corner.
The 'Canes hope things are finally looking up for them.
"Two points? It's better than zero points," Ruutu said. "We've got to get self-confidence from this game, but at the same time, we've got to forget this game and do it again."
The Leafs got their first point in five games. It was little consolation.
"Where do you go? You go back to Toronto, you go to sleep, you wake up the next morning and you go to the practice, you stay focused on whatever needs to be done," Ponikarovsky said. "Same old things again, all over. Just get ready for the next game and go out and win the next one."
Material from wire services was used in this report