Eric Staal, Nathan Gerbe, Justin Faulk, and Jiri Tlusty led Carolina with a goal each while goalkeeper Anton Khudobin made 28 saves and earned his sixth consecutive win in as many starts.
Cedric Paquette and Brian Boyle scored for the Lightning while netminder Ben Bishop made 18 saves and suffered his first loss against the Hurricanes in six career starts against them.
The win kept Tampa Bay from sweeping the two teams’ season series in their third and final meeting, and was the Hurricanes’ first win in 11 games against the Lightning.
It was also a rare home victory over the Lightning, the first in 10 games at PNC, that the 12,508 in attendance witnessed firsthand.
The Hurricanes started quickly against the Eastern Conference’s first-place team.
Jordan Staal got his stick on a pass attempt in the Tampa Bay zone and brother Eric picked it up and placed a backhand shot towards Bishop that ended up in the net for his 16th goal of the season, and ninth in 12 games.
The keeper was caught off guard as Staal’s shot was deflected off Lightning defenseman Anton Stralman’s stick, redirecting the puck into the net just 22 seconds in – the quickest goal scored by the Hurricanes to start a game this season.
“It’s huge obviously,” Carolina Hurricanes head coach Bill Peters said.
“Playing with the lead is a lot easier in this league. Playing catch-up hockey in the National League is losing hockey. We know that first hand. We wanna’ start on time. It’s part of the culture that we’ve wanted to establish, and we’ve done that here recently.”
Gerbe soon put Carolina ahead 2-0 when he scored his fifth of the season on an open net.
The winger was in the right spot at the right time when a Brett Bellemore point shot was tipped by Elias LIndholm and deflected off the end boards on one side of the Lightning net before ending up on Gerbe’s stick on the other side.
Khudobin made numerous key stops during the first period, including a backhand attempt in close from Tampa Bay’s Ondrej Palat with eight minutes to go.
Paquette cut the Carolina lead to 2-1 after breaking towards Khudobin’s crease off the right wing.
The Tampa Bay center tried to cut across the low slot but lucked out as the puck ricocheted off Bellemore’s skate and through the goalie’s legs to cut the margin to one goal with 5:55 remaining.
Carolina carried the lead into the second period, even after being outshot 14-7 during the opening 20 minutes.
Tampa Bay didn’t slow its offensive tempo and required Khudobin to stay sharp, particulary in defending a Lightning power play early in the period.
At the other end, Bishop also had to make many critical saves as the Lightning fell into penalty trouble.
The Hurricanes had ample opportunities to break Bishop down further and got their chance with the man-advantage, converting on 1-of-3 for the night.
It was Faulk who scored the lone power play goal.
Carolina’s NHL All-Star Game representative scored his ninth of the season on a clean wrist shot from the point that made it through traffic in front of Bishop and extended the lead to 3-1.
Jordan Staal earned his second assist of the night on the play.
Peters commented on the upside of Faulk’s play which appeared simple and effective.
“That’s a good way to put it,” the coach concurred.
“He’s a young guy, he likes the game and he’s gettin’ better.”
With yet another power play opportunity, the Hurricanes weren’t able to score, and instead gave up a shorthanded goal.
A fanned pass attempt proved costly for Victor Rask as Tampa Bay’s Brian Boyle picked the puck up at his own blue line and outskated Rask as well as Faulk to head in on a breakaway.
Boyle drew the puck forehand to backhand and slid the puck under Khudobin’s pads and pulled the Lightning to within one goal again, trailing 3-2.
Gerbe took a slashing penalty at 17:23 and gave Tampa Bay an opportunity to tie the game.
However, Carolina’s penalty kill, fourth best in the NHL, denied that from the happening and the Hurricanes carried another one-goal lead into the intermission break.
The third period highlighted Khudobin’s ability to stop pucks in dramatic fashion, as he made pad saves on numerous shots from the point and low slot.
“I can’t score,” Khudobin said smiling.
“Guys will do their job and I have to do my job and everything comes together in a perfect situation.”
As the Hurricanes finished killing their third penalty of the game, Eric Staal chipped the puck along the boards to clear the zone and up to Faulk.
The defenseman put together a 2-on-1 with Tlusty and feathered a pass to the winger who one-timed the puck past Bishop and gave Carolina a 4-2 lead with 12:07 to play.
It was all the Hurricanes would need to earn another win at home.
For the remainder of the game Khudobin continued to stop pucks while his teammates supported his effort to fend off a 30-22 shooting advantage for Tampa Bay.
“They’re at the top of their division for a reason,” Eric Staal said.
“They pushed back there after we made it 2-0. After they pushed back, I thought we responded well – we skated real well the rest of the game…We were on the right side of some good bounces and it was nice to get that fourth one there by Jiri – a lot of good things. We’ll continue to build on that and be ready to go for the next game.”
Notes: Carolina extended its unbeaten streak to 6-0-1 when scoring four or more goals…In finishing with a goal and an assist, Eric Staal pushed his career point-scoring totals against Tampa Bay to 69 points (32g, 37a)…While Khudobin made numerous key saves, particularly with his pads, he pointed out that he’s still working to improve in that area. “I’ve trained to have rebounds like that,” he said. “When I got to North America, I didn’t have really good rebound control. So we have to learn that, and I’m still learning and we’re still working on that.”