RALEIGH, N.C. - Jussi Jokinen couldn't sneak a late backhand past Martin Brodeur, so he parked himself in front of the net to distract the New Jersey Devils goaltender.
With the click of a skate, he saved the Carolina Hurricanes from the brink of playoff elimination. Jokinen deflected in Dennis Seidenberg's slap shot off his skate with 0.2 seconds remaining as the Hurricanes evened their series with New Jersey at two games apiece, beating the Devils 4-3 Tuesday night.
Eric Staal, Ryan Bayda and Chad LaRose also scored and Seidenberg finished with two assists for the Hurricanes, who blew a 3-0 lead but regrouped just in time to avoid a third straight overtime game.
Jokinen started the dramatic sequence when he tried to stuff a backhander past Brodeur with about seven seconds remaining. The puck circled around to Joni Pitkanen near the blue line and he passed off to Seidenberg, who unloaded a hard blast from the point.
"I knew it was close, so I just tried to get the puck to the net," Seidenberg said.
It got there - right after it bounced off the Finn's left skate and past Brodeur's low left side as time expired.
"I felt right away (the puck hit) my skate, and then I saw it just in the net. I didn't hear the buzzer, so I was pretty sure, I was comfortable it was a goal," Jokinen said. "I tried to look at everybody - our coaches, our players - asking if it was a good goal or no. Everybody says, 'I don't know,' so I was really nervous."
After a review of about two minutes, officials determined that the puck crossed the goal line with 0.2 seconds left. An incensed Brodeur, who had been bumped outside the crease by Jokinen seconds before the goal, smashed his stick into the boards.
"'I had time to reset myself.' That's always the same answer. It doesn't matter which referee," Brodeur said. "It's the easy way out for them to say that. It's hard. You want to play your game. You want to do what's right and be in the best position you can.
"With these guys (Carolina), they go to the net. They play hard," he added. "I am not complaining about how Carolina is playing. They don't take liberty. They're pretty fair about it. They got to the net. The referee has to do their job. Today was pretty awful."
David Clarkson scored the tying goal with 11:14 left for New Jersey. Brian Gionta added a goal and an assist, Brendan Shanahan scored his 60th career playoff goal and Brodeur stopped 42 shots for the Devils.
But when this tightly played series resumes with Game 5 on Thursday night in New Jersey, the momentum boost will belong to the Hurricanes after a game they controlled for nearly two full periods nearly slipped away before Jokinen's buzzer-beater.
"We want to be careful with that, because it seems the team who's taken one on the chin has responded very well," Carolina coach Paul Maurice said. "We're going to have to come back with the same sense of determination that I thought we felt coming into this game."
Meanwhile, this one had to deflate the Devils - even if Brodeur denied it - after they rallied from three goals down and came within a split seconds of forcing OT.
"It's a disappointing loss, but we didn't lose anything today," Brodeur said. "We've still got home-ice advantage. We lost a game. That's it."
Gionta got New Jersey's improbable comeback started when he scored on a breakaway with 27.8 seconds left in the second. Shanahan kept it going into the third, beating a screened Cam Ward with a wrist shot with 15:39 left to make it 3-2, and Clarkson tied it roughly 4 minutes later when he took advantage of a defensive breakdown and snapped a rebound past a sprawled-out Ward.
"We battled hard to get back in the game. But at the end of the day, we never played a real good game," New Jersey coach Brent Sutter said. "That goal at the end of the (second) period got us going. We played a real good third period, an exceptionally good third period. It's the playoffs and strange things happen. We were able to battle back. And obviously a very strange thing happened to lose a game."
Ward finished with 26 saves for the Hurricanes, who dominated the first two periods with their best 40 minutes of the post-season.
Of course, that wasn't necessarily saying a whole lot. Through three games, the only time the scoreboard showed them ahead was after Tim Gleason's slap shot in overtime won Game 2. They were getting next to nothing out of their No. 1 line and there were lingering worries that they were destined to slide into a 3-1 series hole.
But they scored twice during a 1:03 stretch - and their top line of Staal, Tuomo Ruutu and Erik Cole got it all started with its first goal of the series.
Staal put Carolina up 1-0 when he stuffed a rebound past Brodeur for his second goal of the series, and moments later, Bayda came away with a goal when he took advantage of a rare misplay by the NHL's winningest goaltender. Brodeur stopped a shot, dropped the puck and could only watch as Scott Walker simply took it away from him before setting up Bayda in the slot.
LaRose made it 3-0 with 13 1/2 minutes left in the second when he backhanded his rebound past Brodeur, giving him a goal in two straight games and putting the Hurricanes in charge - for a while, anyway.
"It's kind of fitting. It seems that's the way it's going to go in a playoff game," Carolina captain Rod Brind'Amour said. "It looks like you've got it kind of going good, but it's never that easy. And then just because they come back and it looks like they're going that way, you just never know how it's going to work out. For whatever reason, we seem to make things interesting. But you know what? At the end of the day, it makes no difference."
Notes: Devils LW Zach Parise was held without a goal for the first time in the series. He led the team with a career-high 45 goals in the regular season. ... Seidenberg, a healthy scratch the previous two games, replaced D Frantisek Kaberle in the lineup and was paired with Pitkanen, who also had two assists. ... Paul Martin has a point in all four games of the series. ... Gionta has scored in two straight games.
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