Brian Compton | NHL.com Staff Writer
RALEIGH, N.C. --
In hindsight, perhaps being scratched for Games 2 and 3 of this Eastern Conference Quarterfinal against the New Jersey Devils
may have been just what the doctor ordered for Carolina Hurricanes
defenseman Dennis Seidenberg
The veteran blueliner returned to the lineup on Tuesday night and played a role in the first and fourth goals -- the latter was scored by Jussi Jokinen with 0.2 seconds left in regulation -- as the Hurricanes evened the best-of-7 series at two games apiece with a wild 4-3 victory at the RBC Center.
"Obviously, I wasn't happy after getting taken out," Seidenberg said. "That's what you have to do when you come back in. You have to try to prove that you belong in the lineup. That's what I was trying to do."
Seidenberg, who was benched after a 4-1 loss in Game 1, returned with a determined look in his eye. Early in the first period, he rushed the puck up ice and set up Eric Staal's second goal of the postseason, as the Hurricanes' No. 1 center swatted Tuomo Ruutu's rebound past Martin Brodeur to give Carolina a 1-0 lead.
Ryan Bayda scored 63 seconds later and Chad LaRose added a goal in the second period to put the Hurricanes ahead by three, but New Jersey stormed back to tie things up. Brian Gionta beat Cam Ward on a breakaway with 27.8 seconds left before Brendan Shanahan and David Clarkson scored just over four minutes apart in the third.
"I don't think we played that bad," Ruutu said of Carolina's performance in the second half of the game. "We made a couple of mistakes and they got a couple of goals and that's the way it is. Those things happen."
With a third consecutive overtime seemingly in the cards, Seidenberg took a pass from Joni Pitkanen and rifled a shot from the right point that Jokinen redirected past Brodeur in the final second. It was quite the way for Seidenberg to return to the lineup after being replaced by Frantisek Kaberle for Games 2 and 3.
"I felt it right away ... it hit my skate and then I saw it in the net," Jokinen said. "I didn't hear the buzzer so I was comfortable with the goal, but I was a little nervous with the replay. I looked at our coaches and players and asked them if they thought it was a good goal, and everybody said they didn't know."
Replays concluded that the puck did in fact find the net before the horn sounded. Seidenberg said afterwards he wasn't aware how much time was left when he let it rip.
"I just tried to get the puck to the net," Seidenberg said. "Luckily, Jussi was in front and tipped it in. I didn't know it was that close. It was crazy. We were up 3-0, and then we give up three goals in a row. It was tough, but we stayed with it."
Just like Seidenberg stayed with it after being forced to watch Games 2 and 3. In the end, he responded just the way Hurricanes coach Paul Maurice hoped he would.
"He played very well and blocked some shots," Maurice said. "Skating's a very big part of his game. It helped us move some other people around. He did a really solid job."
It certainly was the perfect way for Seidenberg to respond. While he wasn't pleased with having to watch the previous two games, it appeared as if Seidenberg didn't miss a beat in his return to the lineup. With such a performance in Game 4, it's highly unlikely that Seidenberg will sit out for Game 5 at the Prudential Center on Thursday.
"That's their decision," Seidenberg said. "I tried to work as hard as I could, and luckily I could contribute. That's a good thing."
And for the Hurricanes, it was a very good thing that the puck found its way past Brodeur in the final second of regulation. Had the Devils found a way in overtime, they would have put Carolina on the brink of elimination with the series shifting back to New Jersey.
"It's playoffs ... strange things happen," Devils coach Brent Sutter said. "We were able to battle back. Obviously a very strange thing happened."
After being a healthy scratch the last two games, Carolina defenseman Dennis Seidenberg
rushed the puck up ice and fired a shot toward the net, which ultimately led to Eric Staal's
goal at 7:44 of the opening period. It marked the first time in the series that the Hurricanes had a lead in regulation.
Hurricanes defenseman Joni Pitkanen
, who logged more than 25 minutes of ice time and set up the game-winner in the final second of regulation.
New Jersey had a chance to take some momentum into the first intermission when Chad LaRose went off for interference with 2:10 left in the opening period. However, the Devils' power play once again came up empty and ultimately failed to cut a two-goal deficit in half.
The first period was all Carolina. Not only did the Hurricanes have a 2-0 lead after 20 minutes, but they held a 15-7 edge in the shots department.
left late in the second period after Chad LaRose
fell on his calf during a scrum in front of the Devils' net. Salvador was able to get up and skate to the dressing room, but it will be interesting to see if he can play in Game 5. Jay Leach
and Andy Greene are New Jersey's reserve defensemen.