RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) - Peter Laviolette figured it might be a quick stay, but for about 30 minutes, the Carolina Hurricanes were atop the Eastern Conference. A large board in their locker room tracks the standings, and assistant equipment manager George Crickmore updated it moments after the Hurricanes latest victory.
Alas, Ottawa forced another change by winning its game later, dropping Carolina to second. Still, the moment wasn't lost on Laviolette.
``It's a goal of ours,'' he said. ``The guys play hard to get it done.''
That certainly was the case Tuesday night.
Erik Cole had a goal and an assist in a fast-paced first period and the Hurricanes held on to beat the Detroit Red Wings 3-2 in the only matchup of the season between two of the top teams in the NHL.
Carolina increased its advantage in the Southeast Division to 14 points over Atlanta by handing the Western Conference-leading Red Wings their second loss in a row.
``We didn't execute as well as we could, but we got the points,'' Cole said. ``For confidence, there always is that feeling that goes with a good win.''
Martin Gerber stopped 36 shots for the Hurricanes, who survived a late penalty on Frantisek Kaberle to win their fifth straight. Cory Stillman's 11-game point streak ended as Detroit held him scoreless for the first time since Dec. 13.
No matter. Carolina improved to 7-0 when Ray Whitney puts the puck in the net, and his power-play goal midway through the first period made it 2-0. Cole then added his on a spectacular effort behind the net, corralling his own rebound and wrapping it around to beat Manny Legace easily.
Of course, it helped that Legace lost his feet as he skated out to stop the initial shot from Cole, and the Red Wings trailed 3-0.
``You can't count on coming back against a team like that when you're down three goals,'' Detroit defenseman Chris Chelios said.
Yet Detroit rallied quickly behind 40-year-old captain Steve Yzerman, who sped past defenseman Oleg Tverdovsky for his first goal since returning last week from injury. He missed nine games with a groin ailment after sitting out eight of the first 10 games with the same diagnosis.
Detroit cut the deficit to one when Henrik Zetterberg scored on the man-advantage. He appeared to be trying a cross-ice pass to Tomas Holmstrom just outside the crease, but the puck bounced off the skate of Carolina defenseman Aaron Ward through Gerber to make it 3-2.
``With the way the game is played now, I don't think any lead is safe,'' Carolina defenseman Bret Hedican said. ``We needed to stay in the game, but unfortunately, they were playing better than us.''
The Hurricanes killed three more penalties against the top scoring unit in the league and extended the best start in franchise history with 60 points in 42 games.
``The story here is Gerber,'' Red Wings coach Mike Babcock said. ``We can talk about anything we want, but it wasn't close. We had as many scoring chances in the last 2 minutes as you have some nights. Their goalie gives them a real chance.''
Matt Cullen had Carolina's first goal after a rare mistake by Chelios. He swung and missed as the puck sailed over his head in the neutral zone, and Cullen chased it down. Brett Lebda was back for Detroit, but he dove on the ice too early to block a shot, and Cullen patiently waited before beating Legace on the far side.
``That might be our best first period of the year,'' Laviolette said. ``That's the type of game we want to play for 60 minutes, but unfortunately, the other team has something to say about it.''
Notes: Ward left the game with what the team called a hernia and did not return. ... The Red Wings have nine players remaining from the team that beat the Hurricanes in the 2002 Stanley Cup finals, while Carolina has six. Detroit won in five games. ... The schedule doesn't get any easier for the Red Wings, who return home to play Atlantic Division leader Philadelphia on Thursday and the second-place New York Rangers on Saturday.
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