Jesper Fast deflected in a shot by Jesperi Kotkaniemi at 7:09 of overtime to give the Carolina Hurricanes a series-ending 3-2 victory over the New Jersey Devils on Thursday night.
Fast’s deflection while shielding Akira Schmid set off a celebration for the Hurricanes, who never led until the final play and twice trailed by a goal before winning the best-of-seven series 4-1 to reach the Eastern Conference final.
In the first tight game of the second-round matchup, Fast made amends for when he popped a puck over the goal in front of an open net in the first period.
Jaccob Slavin and Brent Burns also scored for Carolina, and Frederik Andersen made 27 saves.
Dawson Mercer and Timo Meier scored for New Jersey. Schmid stopped 36 shots.
This marks Carolina’s first trip to the Eastern Conference final since 2019. The Hurricanes will face the winner of the Florida-Toronto series, with the Panthers leading that one 3-1.
The first four games of the series had been filled by lopsided results, with each decided by at least four goals and a starting goaltender chased early. Carolina won the first two games at home by an 11-2 margin, then shook off a Game 3 loss by blowing things open in the second period for a 6-1 road win Tuesday in Game 4.
The Hurricanes had been in this position in Round 1, with a chance to close out the New York Islanders on home ice in Game 5. They lost that one and instead had to clinch the series with an overtime road win in Game 6.
This time, they needed a dramatic finish to avoid a repeat.
The Devils’ exit comes in a season where a young group arrived to postseason contention earlier than expected.
New Jersey finished one point behind the Hurricanes in the Metropolitan Division for the league’s third-best point total (112) and the franchise’s first playoff appearance in five years, then pushed past the rival New York Rangers in seven games despite falling behind 0-2 for its first playoff series win since 2012.
Both teams missed on apparent easy putaways that loomed large as the game pushed into OT.
The Hurricanes’ early chances included Seth Jarvis’ deflection banging off the right post roughly 6 minutes in. Then came Paul Stastny finding Fast at the top of the crease — only to see Fast lift the puck over the exposed net in a play that left him shaking his head in exasperation once back on the bench.
The Devils’ frustrating moment came in a wild second-period sequence.
Meier stole possession behind the Carolina net and started a pass-happy sequence that saw the puck go from Michael McLeod to Phil Hughes just outside the crease, and then to Meier on the opposite side for a putaway chance — only to see Meier send the puck harmlessly through and out of the crease.
McLeod had a huge defensive play with about 6 1/2 minutes left in the third, getting his stick in to disrupt Fast’s attempt on an empty goal after Schmid had lost the puck behind the net. … Carolina finished with a 39-29 shot advantage. … The Devils were 1 for 24 on the power play this season against the Hurricanes before Meier’s second-period goal. … Carolina’s Jordan Martinook assisted Slavin’s second-period goal, pushing him to 10 points in the series after a scoreless first round. … Former North Carolina State and current Buffalo Bills running back Nyheim Hines sounded the pregame storm-warning siren for the Hurricanes to take the ice.