Eric Staal scored goals in a 1:38 span in the second period and also had an assist to help the Hurricanes beat the New York Islanders 4-2 on Wednesday night.
"Huge game before the break," Staal said. "One point behind Atlanta [and] we wanted to make sure we got the job done here."
Ward also was thinking about the standings.
"We wanted to head into this All-Star break on a high note and feel good about ourselves," Ward said. "Atlanta's win [1-0 over Washington] makes this much more of a bigger win."
Snow and the threat of lot more on the way limited the attendance to 4,976, the second-smallest crowd at the Coliseum this season. Only 3,136 attended the Islanders' 4-1 win over Montreal on Dec. 26 because of a blizzard. The Islanders are last in the NHL in attendance, averaging 10,069.
Staal gave Carolina a 2-1 lead at 5:55 of the second, beating Rick DiPietro with a backhander from the left faceoff circle. The Carolina captain added his 25th goal of the season at 7:23, tipping Joe Corvo's point shot past DiPietro. In 25 games against the Islanders, Staal has 18 goals, eight assists and a plus-25 rating.
"We scored two quick ones to make it 3-1," Staal said. "We want to beat the teams below us in the standings. You want to stay on the gas when you're ahead. We got that one, then another right after. [It was] a big momentum-killer for them; made the hole a little bit too big for them."
Sutter made it 4-1 on a breakaway with 4:55 left in the third.
It appeared Jussi Jokinen opened the scoring for Carolina a minute into the match, but a lengthy review showed the left wing used his stick to push DiPietro's pad across the goal line.
"One referee made the call on the ice based on that he lost sight of the puck. The other fellow informed him the puck had been in the net," Hurricanes coach Paul Maurice explained. "Good guys won, so there's no need to rehash that one."
Boychuk scored with 5:17 left in the period, snapping a wrist shot over DiPietro's glove.
"They just beat us," said DiPietro, 5-12-1 against the Hurricanes.
Grabner tied it 31 seconds into the second period with a backhander from the low slot. Grabner was alone in the slot as Hurricanes defensemen Jamie McBain and Joni Pitkanen followed Frans Nielsen into the corner. Nielsen snapped a perfect pass to Grabner and the Islanders' lone All-Star representative buried the feed.
"I had chances before. Now they're starting to go in," Grabner said. "I think I'm more confident. It's nice to see that the coach has confidence in me."
He was one of the few Islanders absolved by Jack Capuano for their play.
New York coach Capuano said he "thought there were some guys that were selfish for the first time. And that's disturbing," while Matt Moulson added that the Islanders "want to win. You want to win as many as you can."
The game was the second of four between the Eastern Conference rivals. The Hurricanes beat the Islanders 7-2 in Raleigh on Nov. 3. ... DiPietro finished with 27 saves. ... The Hurricanes will be well-represented at the All-Star Weekend in Raleigh. Staal will captain one of the teams, while Ward and rookie Jeff Skinner were announced as All-Stars. Skinner, the 18-year-old rookie, could not contain his excitement. "It's pretty cool to be in the All-Star Game. I think it's going to be an exciting weekend for me, [and] to have in Raleigh is a special touch," Skinner said. "Really cool, really excited. [Should] be a good memory."