RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) - Matt Cullen learned his shootout lessons well, be it from a year spent in Italy during the lockout or all the times this season he watched other players around the NHL score in the new tiebreaker.
"In Italy, we worked on breakaways for probably 20 minutes in practice every day," the Carolina center said. "Here, after a game, we'll be in the gym working out, and you see the other teams' shootouts. You kind of get ideas from guys, and you learn whether you should shoot or deke."
He put that knowledge to good use Friday night, helping the Hurricanes tie Ottawa at the top of the Eastern Conference.
Cullen scored the only goal in a shootout, goalie Martin Gerber set a franchise record for victories and Carolina beat the Tampa Bay Lightning 5-4.
If the Hurricanes win their final two games, they will clinch the No. 1 seed in the postseason over the Senators.
"If you would have told us at the beginning of the season that if we win our last two games, we'd have the conference championship, a lot of people would have laughed," Cullen said. "We're happy, we're in a good position."
Martin St. Louis, who has yet to put the puck in the net in the NHL's new tiebreaker, hit the post with his attempt in the third and final round to fall to 0-for-3. Brad Richards did the same earlier as the Lightning settled for one point.
They lead Atlanta by three points in the chase for the eighth and final playoff spot in the East. Tampa Bay has two games left, while the Thrashers have three.
"The way we played, how hard we played, if we came out of here empty, it would be tough to get on that plane," St. Louis said. "But we played hard and we earned that point."
Justin Williams, Cory Stillman, Rod Brind'Amour and Doug Weight scored for the Hurricanes, who have 111 points. St. Louis, Richards, Vaclav Prospal and Ruslan Fedotenko scored in regulation for the Lightning.
"This was closer to what this team plays like," Tampa Bay coach John Tortorella said. "It's been missing a bit. That's more of the personality of our club, but you have to come back and do it again."
Each team twice bounced back from one-goal deficits, with Tampa Bay moving in front 4-3 on Richards' 22nd of the season in the second period. It very well might be his easiest.
As he harmlessly carried the puck through the neutral zone, he sent a lazy slap shot toward the net, with no screen between him and Carolina goalie Martin Gerber. Yet Gerber missed when he tried to catch it and could only look at his glove while the Lightning celebrated their first lead.
"I'm not happy about it," Gerber said. "It's no secret, I have to do a better job. Lucky we got a win out of it, that's good for us."
The Hurricanes got a chance to tie it about 4 minutes later on the power play, when Tampa Bay goalie Sean Burke was called for delay of game after his clearing attempt landed in the stands. Prospal served the penalty, and Carolina looked simply awful for much of the 2 minutes.
With less than 20 seconds left, defenseman Bret Hedican sent the puck toward the net, where it bounced off teammate Eric Staal. Weight pounced on it and stuffed it past Burke to make it 4-4.
The Lightning took their first lead earlier in the period even though they were down a man. With Cory Sarich in the penalty box for hooking, Vincent Lecavalier and St. Louis broke free and skated in unimpeded on Gerber. Lecavalier smartly took the puck far to his left to draw Gerber, then fed it back to the trailing St. Louis for the go-ahead goal.
Gerber still had 31 saves to get his 38th victory of the season, passing Arturs Irbe's mark of 37 set five years ago. Gerber is 38-13-5.
"Obviously, I would imagine he wants some of those back, and that's just the way it goes," Stillman said. "I imagine Sean Burke wants a couple back, too. He makes big saves when we need him to, and hopefully, we'll get back rolling and we won't give up some bad goals."
Following the short-handed goal by St. Louis, Carolina needed only 20 seconds to tie it. Stillman chased down the rebound from his own shot before passing to Brind'Amour across the ice, and a one-timer easily got through Burke.
Now, the teams get to renew their rivalry Saturday night in Tampa.
"We will have to be all business, because Tampa's back is against the wall," Hurricanes coach Peter Laviolette said. "They'll be trouble to get a point, so it should be a great hockey game."
Notes: Fedotenko's goal was only his second in the past 10 games. ... The 10th sellout of the season at the RBC Center enjoyed "Fan Appreciation Night," with highlights from Carolina's surprising season replayed on the scoreboard during nearly every stoppage. ... North Carolina native Heather Cox, who was voted off "American Idol" in early March, sang the national anthem.
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