RALEIGH — When defenseman Justin Faulk ripped a one-timer into the net for the winning goal Tuesday against the Washington Capitals, there were equal parts celebration and relief for the Carolina Hurricanes.
The Canes not only won the game 4-3, but won it in overtime. No wonder Jeff Skinner showed off his vertical leap after Faulk scored. This season, it has been a rarity.
Perhaps the Hurricanes' biggest failing this season has been their inability to win games after regulation. They're 0-6 in shootouts and 3-9 in games decided in the overtime period, and their overall 3-15 record is the worst in the NHL.
Before Friday's games, the Canes were seven points behind the eighth-place Caps in the NHL's Eastern Conference. The points given up in overtimes and shootouts have been costly.
"I don't think it's a mental thing. It's a lot of different circumstances," forward Patrick Dwyer said Friday. "A penalty here, a guy losing an edge there, or getting tripped. It's a combination of little things and mistakes that has strung together an overtime record that has really come back to haunt us.
"But at the same time you can look back to games in October and November when we had leads in the third period and should have won that got away from us. It's tough to pinpoint one thing."
The Hurricanes' past three games have been decided in overtime and they've lost two. Noting Faulk's winner, Canes coach Kirk Muller said dryly, "It's nice when you get a chance to do it four-on-four."
In overtime, the teams face off four-on-four and the Canes (25-27-15) were shorthanded both last Saturday against the Tampa Bay Lightning and Wednesday against the Buffalo Sabres. In the Tampa Bay game, Canes center Brandon Sutter was called roughing goaltender Mathieu Garon - a questionable penalty. Against the Sabres, defenseman Bryan Allen was penalized for hooking in the final minute of regulation. Both teams converted on the power plays.
A year ago, the Canes were 11-11 overall - 6-6 in overtimes and 5-5 in shootouts. They closed with a 40-31-11 record and 91 points, falling one victory short of reaching the Stanley Cup playoffs.
"It doesn't help when you're killing a penalty ... but we've got to find a way to pick up those points," center Eric Staal said. "Those points are big in the long run. But we've also tied some games up where we've picked up points where maybe we wouldn't have otherwise, so you can look at it a few different ways. "
The Canes have just three shootout goals - two from Jussi Jokinen, the third from Jeff Skinner. They're 3-18 on shootout shots as a team, so that has also been a problem.
But overtimes offer more open ice and the chance for more offensive creativity. Everyone on the ice needs to be in sync, and the over-the boards changes in forwards and defensemen have to be smoothly run.
The return of forward Tuomo Ruutu from an upper-body injury should help the Canes. Ruutu, who scored one of the overtime winners this season, has missed the past 10 games but was at practice Friday and could play tonight against the Lightning.
The New Jersey Devils are an NHL-best 14-5 in overtimes and shootouts, a big reason the Devils are playoff-bound this season after missing out last year. The Canes will take on the Lightning, which is 10-7 and in the playoff mix, tonight in Tampa, Fla.
"This time of year, with the parity in the league and three-point games, it becomes harder and harder to crawl up that leader board," Dwyer said. "But we'll keep fighting."