RALEIGH, N.C. – Eric Staal missed his first short-handed breakaway, but he got a second chance seconds later. He wasn’t going to miss twice.
Staal scored his 22nd goal of the season and assisted on an empty-netter late to help the Carolina Hurricanes beat the Tampa Bay Lightning 6-4.
“I was licking my chops getting another chance at that,” Staal said. “Obviously, a short-handed breakaway, you want to bear down on that and finish it.”
He did, but just barely, taking a pass from Erik Cole and shooting through Dwayne Roloson’s legs. The puck skittered over the goal line, giving the Hurricanes a 5-3 lead and the momentum they needed to improve to 7-2-2 in their last 11 games.
The Hurricanes are just outside the playoff picture, sitting in ninth in the Eastern Conference, but have come on strong lately. Tampa Bay has struggled lately, losing for the fourth time in the past six games, giving up at least five goals in each defeat.
“Our play is too up and down, you know,” Tampa Bay’s Martin St. Louis said. “Execution, smarts, attention to details—we’re all over the map right now. We’re there some nights. We’re completely not other nights. You can see, the nights we’re not, what kind of results we get.”
Jussi Jokinen scored two goals for Carolina, which improved to 14-0 when leading after two periods. His empty-net goal with seven seconds left sealed it after Simon Gagne’s second goal made it 5-4 midway through the third period. Staal finished with a goal and two assists, and rookie Jeff Skinner added a goal and an assist.
Steven Stamkos staked Tampa Bay to an early lead with his league-leading 33rd goal, and Gagne’s first goal, early in the second, put the Lightning ahead 3-2. Carolina then scored unanswered goals.
Jamie McBain scored on the power play three minutes later, and Jokinen took a pass from Sergei Samsonov to score on a 5-on-3 advantage.
Staal’s first short-handed try glanced off the post. He made amends quickly, scoring Carolina’s sixth short-handed goal of the season.
“It kinda rimmed around the boards, and I was left all alone in front,” Staal said. “It was a great pass by Erik to get me another chance at it.”
The Lightning have allowed five or more goals 12 times this season. Twice, they were able to win those high-scoring games, but not Saturday, thanks to an 0-for-5 showing on the power play.
“I thought our penalty kill was outstanding,” Carolina coach Paul Maurice said. “Special teams (were) the difference in the game for us.”
Notes: Staal moved past Rod Brind’Amour for first on the team’s all-time points list since the franchise relocated from Hartford, Conn., to North Carolina. Staal now has 474 points. … Tuomo Ruutu and Skinner have five-game point streaks for Carolina. … Carolina is 9-1 against Tampa Bay in the last 10 games at the RBC Center. … Carolina’s Cam Ward had 30 saves, and Roloson stopped 25 shots.