Hurricane Erik Cole celebrates his goal with teammate Eric Staal during the second period against the Tampa Bay Lightning. SCOTT AUDETTE - NHLI/Getty Images
TAMPA, Fla. -- For the first 53 minutes Friday, the Carolina Hurricanes were in firm control and the Tampa Bay Lightning looked very much like the team that has been stumbling of late and driving its fans a bit batty.
When Eric Staal scored his 30th goal of the season, with 7:40 left in regulation, the Canes led 4-1. Many Lightning fans began leaving St. Pete Times Forum and many of the ones still in the arena had spent time venting and booing the home team.
Who knew that the final seven minutes would be so frenetic, so frantic, with the Bolts suddenly coming alive and the Canes having to gamely hold on for a 4-3 win? And given the thrilling finish to Friday's game, who knows what's in store Saturday when the two go at it again at the RBC Center?
Canes coach Paul Maurice preferred to talk about the positive aspects of the Carolina's third straight win. Erik Cole had two goals. Staal got his 30th of the season and added an assist. Jeff Skinner scored his 26th and Joni Pitkanen had two assists. Cam Ward didn't get a lot of work in net much of the game but made some critical saves in the final minutes.
More so, the Canes had two power-play goals, by Cole and Staal. Carolina, 1-for-37 on the power play in the nine games before Friday, had not scored twice with a man advantage since getting two power-play goals Feb. 8 against the New Jersey Devils.
"We played a game we wanted to play and played very, very well doing it," Maurice said. "We lost a couple of faceoffs, a couple of shots went in and they got going. But at that time you need your goalie to come up and make some saves and (Ward) did.
"Regardless of the situation we're in in the standings, that would have been a tough loss based on how well I thought our hockey club played. ... I'm real pleased with the effort we got out of everybody. I thought every line we put out was going. We were good tonight."
With the Buffalo Sabres beating the Florida Panthers on Friday, the Canes needed the win to stay three points behind the eighth-place Sabres in the East.
"They've got some good players and they started coming on at the end, but I thought for the most part we had a great effort," Staal said. "We controlled the game all the way through to the last five or six minutes. Up and down the lineup we did a great job."
Cole scored the first power-play goal off a nice pass from the right wing from Cory Stillman, rapping the puck past goalie Dwayne Roloson at the post. Staal, who had several good looks throughout the game, slapped in a short one for his power-play goal.
"It's something that has been a little bit of an eyesore," Cole said of the power play. "We believe in the group and what we're doing. We did a good job tonight in our movement and finding shot lanes and getting pucks in."
Cole's second goal came at 6:50 of the third, when he swiped the puck from defenseman Eric Brewer in front of the net and quickly backhanded a shot by Roloson.
Vinny Lacavalier scored his 20th of the season for the Bolts to make it a 4-2 game with 6:43 left in regulation. Then, after Derek Joslin was called for goaltender interference, Gagne again connected on the power play.
Two goals in 52 seconds. The place was loud and was even louder when Canes defenseman Bryan Allen was penalized for boarding Gagne with 2:40 left.
Carolina killed off the penalty, only to have the Bolts pull Roloson for a sixth attacker. But Ward was tough in net and the Canes got their sticks on the puck enough times to hold on for the win.
The Lightning (39-24-11) is bound for the Stanley Cup playoffs this season but has been in a troublesome skid. The loss Friday was Tampa Bay's fourth straight and the Bolts are 2-6-4 in their last 12 games.
The Canes had a 16-7 shooting edge after the opening period and a 22-10 advantage after two periods. The Lightning had 11 shots in the third.
"We executed the way we wanted to and did a lot of good things, moving the puck and moving as a group of five," Cole said. "That was a good game and can be the blue print moving forward, realizing what we need to do to be successful."