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Leighton makes 36 saves, Hurricanes hand Sharks 4-3 shootout loss @NHLdotcom

SAN JOSE, Calif. - Backup goalie Michael Leighton made 36 saves in his first start since Christmas, and Sergei Samsonov scored the shootout winner in the Carolina Hurricanes' 4-3 victory over San Jose on Thursday night.

Ray Whitney tied it with 12:30 left in regulation for the Hurricanes, who got one of the biggest wins of their up-and-down season in the NHL's toughest arena for visiting teams. They did it without injured captain Rod Brind'Amour and all-star forward Eric Staal, who left the game before the third period because of a lower-body injury.

Evgeni Nabokov stopped 26 shots for the Sharks, who lost back-to-back games at the Tank for the first time all season. Ryane Clowe had a goal and an assist, and Alexei Semenov scored his first goal of the season for the Sharks, who dropped to 23-2-3 at the Tank with just the third set of back-to-back losses all season for the Western Conference leaders.

San Jose had the last four days off after a 4-2 home loss to Chicago, just the Sharks' second defeat in regulation at the Tank this season. Marc-Edouard Vlasic scored and Milan Michalek added three assists for the Sharks, but San Jose's vaunted top line of Joe Thornton, captain Patrick Marleau and Devin Setoguchi hasn't scored a goal that didn't go into an empty net in four straight games.

Carolina hadn't won in San Jose since March 4, 2000, but Staal's injury dampened the celebration. It wasn't clear when Staal, Carolina's second-leading scorer with 38 points, was injured or what happened, but he didn't play after the second intermission.

Brind'Amour also missed his first game of the season after heading back to Raleigh to recover from a lower-body injury. In his place, 23-year-old Czech rookie Jakub Petruzalek made his NHL debut with an assist on a goal by Samsonov, who tipped home Petruzalek's shot late in the second period.

Leighton had played just 37 minutes of mop-up duty since Dec. 23 for the Hurricanes, who took Cam Ward out of the net after 17 consecutive starts. Matt Cullen scored on a penalty shot and assisted on Whitney's goal for the Hurricanes, who opened their three-game road trip Tuesday night with a tough loss in Vancouver.

In the clubs' first meeting since March 24, 2007, all-star defenceman Dan Boyle returned to the Sharks' lineup after missing three games to rest a wrist injury that popped up before last month's all-star break.

Clowe scored his 20th goal of the season midway through the first period, tipping home a loose puck. Semenov then scored his first goal in 23 games this season with a long shot that deflected off defenceman Anton Babchuk.

Cullen converted his penalty shot a few minutes later after Christian Ehrhoff interrupted his breakaway, but Vlasic answered with a power play goal on a superb setup from Clowe behind the net.

After Samsonov kept Carolina close, Whitney - who spent much of the second period holding his right hand in anguish on the bench - tied it when San Jose's defence became ragged after a penalty kill.

The Sharks visit Columbus on Saturday night to begin the first of two lengthy East Coast trips in February. The nine games on those trips, which include a showdown with NHL-leading Boston on Tuesday night, will determine whether San Jose has a chance to head into the playoffs with the league's best record.

San Jose hopes to get defenceman Brad Lukowich and forward Jeremy Roenick back from injury during their five-game road trip.

Notes: San Jose plays 14 of its next 20 games on the road. ... Tim Lincecum, the Giants' Cy Young-winning pitcher, dropped the ceremonial first puck in a No. 55 Sharks jersey. ... Petruzalek was recalled earlier Thursday from Carolina's top minor-league affiliate in Albany, where he was second among the River Rats with 34 points in 47 games.

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