RALEIGH — If it was the Carolina Hurricanes' first real high-stakes game of the season - and it certainly felt that way Saturday given the urgency - they didn't handle it very well.
Leading the Florida Panthers by two goals with barely six minutes left in regulation, the Canes first lost their lead, then the game 3-2 in a shootout at the RBC Center.
Yes, another shootout. The Hurricanes have not won one of those all season and now are 0-6.
"It's tough to lose like that," Canes goalie Justin Peters said. "They fought hard, but that one stings. That one really does sting.
"Obviously that was a big game for us in the standings. It's unfortunate we weren't able to hold on."
The Hurricanes went into the game against their Southeast Division rival trailing the Panthers, who were sitting in eighth place in the NHL's Eastern Conference, by eight points. By winning, Florida moved back into first place in the division.
The Canes (23-26-13) took a 2-0 lead into the third period as defenseman Justin Faulk scored a power-play goal late in the first period and Jussi Jokinen added an even-strength score late in the second. Carolina was 16-1-4 this season when leading after two periods and 14-1-2 when taking a 2-0 lead in a game.
But those numbers meant little to the Panthers (28-20-12), who were winless in their past four games but responded with a strong road game and outshot the Canes 44-28.
Tomas Fleischmann's goal with six minutes, two seconds left in regulation trimmed the lead to 2-1, and Florida then tied it on forward Wojtek Wolski's goal with one minute, 47 seconds remaining. Wolski putting a no-look shot on goal that Peters couldn't stop.
"Unfortunately it hit a skate," Peters said. "It was going low blocker and ended up five-hole. An unfortunate bounce."
Talk about a timely goal. Wolski was traded to the Panthers on Saturday from the New York Rangers and arrived at the RBC Center less than two hours before game time.
Eric Staal nearly won it for the Canes in the overtime period, only to have Panthers goalie Jose Theodore make the stop. A scuffle soon ensued, putting Staal and the Panthers' Erik Gudbranson in the penalty box and resulting in three-on-three play.
Soon it was on to the shootout. Both teams were coming off shootout losses Thursday - the Canes to the Anaheim Ducks and the Panthers to the Minnesota Wild. Carolina coach Kirk Muller, looking for something to change his team's luck, elected to got first in the shootout and sent out Jokinen, Jeff Skinner and Jiri Tlusty.
Jokinen was high with his shot, and Mikael Samuelsson scored for the Panthers. Skinner countered by scoring, and Peters stopped Wolski. But Tlusty couldn't get a shot on net and Stephen Weiss beat Peters for the winner.
"We just couldn't hold on," said Peters, who started his third straight game. "I need to make that last save for the boys in the shootout."