SAN JOSE, Calif. - The Carolina Hurricanes' captain was home with an injury, and their only all-star was in the dressing room with another injury. Backstopped by a goalie who hadn't started a game since Christmas, they trailed in the third period at a supremely daunting road arena.
And under those improbable circumstances, the Hurricanes pulled out a victory that could turn out to be a landmark in their up-and-down season.
Michael Leighton made 37 saves before Sergei Samsonov scored the shootout winner in the Hurricanes' 4-3 victory over the San Jose Sharks on Thursday night.
Ray Whitney tied it with 12:30 left in regulation for the Hurricanes as they survived without captain Rod Brind'Amour and high-scoring forward Eric Staal, who left the game before the third period because of a lower-body injury. After Carolina pounced on a San Jose turnover to create Whitney's tying goal, Leighton kept the Sharks' scorers out of the net until Tuomo Ruutu and Samsonov could finish off the shootout.
"This win shows we can compete against any team in the league," said Leighton, who had played just 37 minutes of mop-up duty while Cam Ward started 17 straight games. "I think we were unbelievable in the third period. We never gave in. ... The last couple of months have been pretty tough and not too fun for me. I just spent the time working and trying to keep my game sharp."
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 - and neither did defenceman Frantisek Kaberle, who got a cut on his face but stayed on the bench.
"The call was that if (Staal) played in the third, he had a chance to make the injury worse," Carolina coach Paul Maurice said. "If he didn't, there was a good chance that he could play on Saturday. ... For our goaltender to play as well as he played, it was big. We understand that this has only happened a handful of times in this building this year, and that it should be good for our team."
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.
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. San Jose had the last four days off after a 4-2 home loss to Chicago, just the Sharks' second defeat in regulation at home this season.
All that rest and motivation didn't help San Jose's vaunted top line of Joe Thornton, captain Patrick Marleau and Devin Setoguchi, which hasn't scored a goal that didn't go into an empty net in the Sharks' four games since all three skaters participated in All-Star weekend.
"It's our responsibility to score, and we've just got to get going," Setoguchi said. "But it's not just about scoring. All three of their goals came off our turnovers, and we've just got to be better in that area."
Marc-Edouard Vlasic scored and Milan Michalek added three assists for San Jose.
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.
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.
After Samsonov scored late in the second period to cut San Jose's lead to 3-2, 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. Sharks coach Todd McLellan cited Joe Pavelski for the turnover that led to Whitney's goal.
"I'd like to see individuals be a little more polished, a little more alert," McLellan said. "Individuals have to be a little bit better, but other than that, I don't feel all bad about how we played. They weren't in our end all that much. They had one or two chances, and they ended up in the net."
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.
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.