ST. PAUL, Minn. -- The surging Minnesota Wild moved into a tie at the top of the Northwest Division, and first place of course means a No. 3 seed in the postseason.
Coach Jacques Lemaire has a different and more demanding method of measuring progress, however.
Minnesota, which is 10-3-1 in its last 14 games, is 11-0 when Gaborik gets a goal. His fellow Slovakian and linemate, Pavol Demitra, had a goal and two assists and has 10 points in his last six games.
But the Wild nearly blew a 4-1 lead by getting lured into the aggressive, wide-open style preferred by defending Stanley Cup champion Carolina.
"Relief? I didn't get it yet. I'm still on the stress side," Lemaire said, smiling slyly.
He hinted that Gaborik and Demitra, for all the punch they provided, weren't focused enough on the defensive end. As a team, Minnesota played at times out of character.
"Even though you get a lead, I sensed that our guys tried to be a little too fancy with the puck," Lemaire said. "We turned the puck over, and we brought them back in the game."
Ray Whitney chipped at the lead with his goal late in the first period on Rod Brind'Amour's 46th assist. Eric Staal, who finished with a goal and two assists, scored on the power play in the middle frame to make a game of it in the final period.
"We're proud of coming back in the game, but obviously we're not proud of losing the game," defenseman Bret Hedican said. "We're in a dogfight here, and we need every two points we can get."
The Hurricanes, who are currently in seventh place in the Eastern Conference playoff chase, got a boost from backup goalie John Grahame. He entered the game in the first period with his team trailing 3-1 and stopped 19 of the 21 shots he saw.
Gaborik had two chances at a hat trick in the second period, but his first shot from the slot was blocked and later Grahame used a pad save to deny his breakaway attempt.
Justin Williams, who leads the Hurricanes with 29 goals, scored on a redirection just 36 seconds into the game, but the Wild answered that with four straight goals over a 12-minute span to take a 4-1 lead.
"When it was 3-1, I didn't like anybody's game at that point," Laviolette said.
Ward has been pulled from three starts this season.
"We showed a lot of character and fight to come back," he said.
Niklas Backstrom posted his fifth win in his last six starts, though the NHL's leader in save percentage (.931 entering the game) was shakier than usual.
But he was sturdy when it counted, after Andrew Ladd answered Demitra's score on an assist from Gaborik early in the third period to keep the Hurricanes within 5-4.
"We got our confidence back," Demitra said.
Both teams welcomed a new skater following Friday trades designed primarily to add some size and strength to their forechecks.
Right wing Adam Hall was acquired by Minnesota from the New York Rangers, and he had an assist in 13-plus minutes. Josef Vasicek returned to Carolina in a deal with Nashville, and he blocked three shots in nearly 16 minutes of ice time. Vasicek spent the first five seasons of his career with the Hurricanes until he was traded to the Predators last July.
- Whitney has seven points in his last two games.
- Fans are regularly warned to watch for flying pucks, but one customer two rows behind the Hurricanes' bench received a bigger surprise when Wild center Todd White's stick went sailing into the seats after a collision in the second period.
- Minnesota's leading scorer, Brian Rolston, missed his third straight game because of the flu. Defenseman Kurtis Foster returned from a nine-game absence because of a knee injury.