RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- The Carolina Hurricanes are headed to the Eastern Conference Final after gutting out a 3-2 overtime win Thursday night to put the New Jersey Devils on ice.
The Hurricanes clinched the best-of-seven series 4-1 but unlike the previous games, this was anything but easy.
After four games that saw the victors win with relative ease in high-scoring affairs. 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.
Game 5 was an old-fashioned, nerve-wracking struggle.
The Hurricanes twice trailed, 1-0, then 2-1. They battled back and knotted the score at 2-2 in the third period before gritting out the win in the extra period.
It was the first overtime game of the series and Jesper Fast's winner at 7:09 of the extra period sent the crowd into delirium.
Fast's deflection while shielding Akira Schmid set off a celebration for the Hurricanes, who never led until the final play.
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.
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.
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.
Anticipation was huge as fans prepped outside PNC Arena well before the puck dropped.
"They are so excited. We're hoping to finish it out tonight," Leslie Robinson of Raleigh said of her son and nephew.
Raymond Henley of Fayetteville brought his son to his first-ever game.
"It's electric," Henley said. "He loved the outside we love the inside. It's just going to be a great atmosphere."
Former Duke basketball star and current Charlotte Hornets center Mark Williams was at the game, too.
It was his first Canes game.
"It's pretty similar," Williams said. "Their schedule is similar to ours, high intensity."
Traffic Alert: Expect heavy traffic in PNC Arena due to concerts, Canes home, ongoing construction
ABC11's Josh Chapin and The Associated Press contributed.