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Williams helps Hurricanes find way again in Game 3 victory

Breaks tie against Islanders, Carolina moves within one win of Eastern Conference Final

by Tom Gulitti @TomGulittiNHL / NHL.com Staff Writer

RALEIGH, N.C. -- Justin Williams found himself in the right place at the right time again, and the Carolina Hurricanes are one win from reaching the Eastern Conference Final.

Williams enhanced his reputation as a clutch performer in the Stanley Cup Playoffs by scoring the winning goal at 10:15 of the third period during the Hurricanes' 5-2 victory against the New York Islanders in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Second Round at PNC Arena on Wednesday.

Williams benefited from a deft play by center Sebastian Aho, who knocked Islanders goalie Robin Lehner's pass out of midair behind the net and fed Williams in the slot for a shot that went in over Lehner's glove to make it 3-2.

 

[RELATED: Complete Islanders vs. Hurricanes series coverage]

 

"That was probably my worst opportunity of the night," said Williams, who hit the left post with an open chance from the slot in the second period. "I had a couple good looks and that one went in, so it's funny how that works sometimes."

Empty-net goals from Teuvo Teravainen and Aho sealed the victory for Carolina, which leads the best-of-7 series 3-0 and will go for the sweep in Game 4 at home on Friday (7 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS). Williams' goal was the forward's 38th in 150 playoff games over 18 NHL seasons and his eighth game-winner.

"It's not like he's best player out there, but he just finds ways," Hurricanes coach Rod Brind'Amour said. "It's special that we have him. … He's not getting his due because he's already had it, but he's our leader and you need that."

Video: NYI@CAR, Gm3: Williams pots Aho's feed for lead

Williams, a three-time Stanley Cup winner, is the Hurricanes captain and unquestioned leader, but he's been only a part of the success they are having in their first playoff appearance since 2009. Ravaged by injuries throughout the postseason, they've needed contributions from everyone to get this far.

On Wednesday, it was backup goalie Curtis McElhinney filling in for the injured Petr Mrazek (lower body) by making 28 saves in his first NHL playoff start. At 35 years and 343 days old, McElhinney was the oldest goalie in NHL history to make his first postseason start and appeared unfazed by the situation.

"It's what he does," Williams said. "Am I extremely proud and giddy for him? Absolutely. I'll show some emotion if he's not, because he's going to be pretty stoic and not give you much. But awesome for him. We're proud of him, and he's such a great team guy."

With defenseman Trevor van Riemsdyk and forwards Micheal Ferland and Saku Maenalanen each out with an upper-body injury, the return of forwards Andrei Svechnikov (concussion) and Jordan Martinook (lower body) was timely for Carolina. 

Svechnikov, who had not played since Game 3 of the first round against the Washington Capitals, didn't get on the scoresheet but was dynamic in 12:13 of ice time on the third line, hitting the right post on a shot from the right face-off circle in the first period and showing his speed and strength on a right-wing rush in the third.

Martinook teamed with Greg McKegg and Patrick Brown on an energetic fourth line that helped Carolina get back to the aggressive forecheck that was missing for much of the first two games against New York.

"I think everybody's stepping up," McElhinney said. "We've been putting new guys in the lineup, guys are coming back, so it's been nice to interchange some parts and still have success."

Video: NYI@CAR, Gm3: Williams on team's belief in themselves

At this point, no one would blame the Hurricanes for starting to feel like they are a team of destiny. They have won five consecutive games in 10 days after being one loss from elimination against the Capitals.

"Destiny is not a matter of chance, it's a matter of choice," Williams said. "You don't wait for it, you achieve it. We're not waiting around to see what happens. We're going to try to go get it."

Williams will try to show Carolina the way, as he has all season. A member of the Hurricanes' 2006 Cup-winning team who also won championships with the Los Angeles Kings in 2012 and 2014, he has never been the fastest or most skilled player, but he clearly has a knack for winning and being part of the big moments in wins.

"I feel like every time it's five minutes left, he's even faster than usual," Aho said. "He's a clutch player. He's a good player."

In a season that began with the Hurricanes simply trying to re-establish themselves in their market after nine seasons out of the playoffs, they and their fans are dreaming big. 

Why shouldn't they in this crazy postseason when all four division winners were eliminated in the first round?

"I'm going to say all the right things here," Williams said. "We're up 3-0. They say the last one's the hardest, and it always is when the other team's backs are against the wall. We certainly don't want to go back [to New York for Game 5], but if we have to we will. But we're going to work our tails off to hopefully get it done in four."

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