The challenge for the Carolina Hurricanes this season hasn't been playing well. At times, they've played very well. The challenge has been playing well for an entire game.
There have been precious few of those, which is why the Hurricanes went into Tuesday's game padding along at .500 and fourth in the Southeast Division.
So when the Tampa Bay Lightning scored late in the third period to pull within a goal, as the Lightning piled on the pressure, there was plenty of reason for concern.
It took less than a minute for Chad LaRose to answer with his second goal of the night, locking down a 4-2 win for the Hurricanes.
"It felt good," LaRose said. "We've been a little fragile sometimes, so when they scored that second goal it was nice to get another one quick. We played a good game all 60 minutes, everybody top to bottom."
Twice on Tuesday, the Hurricanes found themselves in dangerous positions. After dominating the first period, they were up 2-1 in the second when the Lightning had two full minutes of two-man advantage.
The Hurricanes then spent much of the third period pinned in their own end, and Brett Connolly's goal with five minutes to go cut Carolina's lead to one.
The Hurricanes have come undone under less pressure this season, but in each case Tuesday, they responded - with a big penalty-kill and a Jeff Skinner goal not long after in the second period, and with LaRose's second goal of the night in the third.
Even the first period offered its challenges. The Hurricanes were down 1-0 despite their dominance before LaRose scored on a power play.
"Not worried about it," LaRose said. "When we're playing like that, it's a good sign. We're not always going to get the bounces or the goals aren't always going to go in, but when you're taking it to a team like that you can't be worried."
The Hurricanes were rolling along in the second, up a goal, outshooting the Lightning by a two-to-one margin, when simultaneous penalties to Eric Staal and LaRose gave the Lightning two full minutes of five-on-three power play.
Few teams in the NHL can muster the kind of five-on-three firepower the Lightning can. Throw Vincent Lecavalier, Martin St. Louis, Steven Stamkos and two garbage cans out on the ice, and odds are they'll get a goal or two.
Yeoman work from three players made the difference. Bryan Allen and Tim Gleason were out for all but 11 seconds of the power play, Brandon Sutter for about 20 seconds less. That trio dove to deny shooting lanes, blocked a shot and kept the Lightning to the outside, with the best opportunities coming on shots Cam Ward saw clearly and saved easily.
"That was maybe a game-changer," Gleason said. "They score that goal, they tie it up at that point. They have tons of skill. We just tried to get in the shooting lanes and 'Wardo' came up with a couple big saves."
Even after Skinner's goal made it 3-1, there were still 29 minutes to go. This was the real test: Maintaining that level of play to the end, particularly as the Lightning went all out for offense.
It was a narrow escape on a night the Hurricanes faced potential disaster and emerged unharmed.
DeCock: 919-829-8947 or luke.decock@ newsobserver.com