Everything changed with one brilliant stretch of hockey.
“We knew that we hadn?t played our best,” Carolina defenseman Glen Wesley said. “We knew we had to go out there and not play in our heels.”
And Wesley, of all people, came through with the game-winner, capping a huge third-period comeback with his first goal in more than nine months to help Carolina beat the Lightning 4-3 Friday night.
Down 3-1 entering the final 20 minutes and headed toward another lopsided loss to their Southeast Division rival, the Hurricanes scored three goals in less than 7 minutes to beat Tampa Bay for the first time this season.
“We felt we were due for a come-from-behind victory,” Justin Williams said.
“We got what we wanted for 40 minutes,” Lecavalier said. “They’ve got a good veteran team, and they put it together in the third.”
Tampa Bay won both previous games in the season series by the combined score of 11-2, and with Lecavalier leading the charge through two periods, another victory appeared secured. Tampa Bay held a 20-10 advantages in shots at that point.
But Carolina bounced back, and its oldest player had the deciding goal. The 39-year-old Wesley, who took the ice for his 1,402nd career game, sent a quick wrist shot through a screen by Staal to beat Johan Holmqvist.
It was Wesley’s first goal in 36 games, when he scored shorthanded in overtime to beat Philadelphia on Feb. 22.
Ray Whitney and Williams had a hand in the comeback as well, beating Holmqvist with nearly identical shots to tie it at 3. First, Whitney took a pass from Matt Cullen and lifted a shot through defenseman Brad Lukowich that sailed over Holmqvist?s right shoulder.
Then Williams skated in on a 3-on-2 and shot from between the circles, again going high to beat Holmqvist on his pad side for the tying goal.
“We needed it,” Carolina coach Peter Laviolette said. “We needed to come out and have a period like that.”
That ruined a brilliant second period by Tampa Bay, which began with Prospal and Lecavalier joining Martin St. Louis on a nifty three-man weave to take its first lead at 2-1. St. Louis dropped a pass through his legs to Lecavalier, then took a return pass near the left circle.
Just as goalie Cam Ward committed, St. Louis sent the puck across the crease to Prospal for the relatively easy goal.
Lecavalier extended the lead when he bumped defenseman Bret Hedican off the puck near the blue line and skated in alone on Ward. It was his 15th goal of the season.
“We play really good for part of the game,” Lecavalier said. “As soon as we make a mistake, it ends up in our net. It’s a bad loss for us. There’s no excuses.”
The Hurricanes scored the first goal when Cole passed to Staal right beside the net, and after several swipes of his stick, the puck scooted through Holmqvist for a 1-0 lead.
Carolina visits Washington on Saturday before returning home for two more games. Early in the second period, the scoreboard flashed the final score from Arkansas’ upset of No. 1 LSU, drawing loud cheers as college football’s national championship chase became more complicated. Tampa Bay returns home for a game Saturday against New Jersey, then go back on the road for two more games.