Whitney scored on a tip-in with one-half second left in the third period, lifting the Hurricanes past the Atlanta Thrashers 4-3 on Friday night, the defending Stanley Cup champions’ first victory of the season.
Carolina led 3-0 in the first period, but the agony of watching Atlanta’s comeback to tie led Whitney to call the game “one of the worst I’ve played in in a long time.”
“In the third period we were playing not to make mistakes, not to win,” Whitney said. “But we hung in there.”
Cam Ward stopped 31 shots for the Hurricanes, who were off to an 0-3-1 start.
An overtime period seemed inevitable until Whitney’s first goal of the season in the final second. Whitney tipped in a shot by Eric Staal.
Each team endured its frustrations. The Hurricanes went through a long scoreless stretch as the Thrashers finally pulled even in the third period.
“We really controlled the last 40 minutes – minus point-five seconds,” Thrashers coach Bob Hartley said. “Tonight was definitely a tough way to lose a game.”
Atlanta goaltender Kari Lehtonen, who allowed only three goals in the first four games, had that total doubled in the Hurricanes’ strong opening period. Lehtonen then shut out the Hurricanes for almost two periods until Whitney’s game-winner.
“It got to my stick and I took a whack at it,” Whitney said of the last-second shot. “It was a fortunate goal, one this team needed.”
Whitney called the shot “a desperation play; it was a wobbler that went up and down.”
Said Lehtonen: “I knew there was some time left. You never quit playing before it’s over. It was a lucky goal, but it was a good shot. … It’s a 60-minute game. He hit it before it ended.”
Craig Adams scored two goals for Carolina.
“To get this win was really big for our team,” Adams said. “We still have a ways to go, but it was nice to get this one.”
Jon Sim scored two goals in a 22-second span in the second period for Atlanta, which opened the season 3-0-1.
Carolina gave up 18 goals in the first four games, second-most in the league, and was outscored 11-5 in the first two games of its seven-game road trip. Carolina coach Peter Laviolette challenged his team to end the malaise, and the Hurricanes answered early against the Thrashers.
“I thought tonight was the best game that we competed since the start of camp,” Laviolette said. “Friday the 13th is supposed to be unlucky, but maybe it’s a reverse effect for us.”
Adams scored on two tip-ins for Carolina’s first two goals. On each score, Lehtonen stopped shots – by Erik Cole on the first and Niclas Wallin on the second – but Adams was in position to put in the deflections.
Carolina took a 3-0 lead with less than two seconds left in the first period when Staal scored on a breakaway. The goal came after Atlanta’s Ilya Kovalchuk was denied on a breakaway by Ward, and the Hurricanes quickly moved the puck back down the ice for Staal’s wrist shot.
Officials needed a review to confirm Sim’s first goal with less than six minutes left in the second period. Capping a furious battle for possession of the puck in front of Ward, Sim managed to tip in a shot by Glen Metropolit.
Only 22 seconds later, Sim scored again, cutting the Carolina lead to 3-2.
That lead held until Bobby Holik’s game-tying goal on a drive to the net with less than six minutes left in the third period.
Kovalchuk, who since the start of the 2002-03 season leads all players with 131 goals, still does not have one this season. He was stopped on 10 shots.
“I want to score every game, but I don’t know what’s going on,” Kovalchuk said. “It’s bad luck.”
Carolina was 0-for-5 on the power play and Atlanta was 0-for-4.
Notes: Carolina captain Rod Brind’Amour earned his first two points of the season with assists on Adams’ goals. … Sim, who had 17 goals for Philadelphia and Florida last season, already has four this season. … Lehtonen is 1-4 in five career starts against Carolina.