Alex Nedeljkovic made 24 saves to earn his first career shutout in the National Hockey League and lead the Carolina Hurricanes to a 3-0 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning.
HIGHLIGHTS | PHOTO GALLERY | STATISTICS
A 4-0 win against the Lightning, the Canes' second shutout victory against Tampa Bay this season, was no doubt a dominant team effort from up and down the lineup. It had to be.
"It's a great test because you're playing the best. You could see there was not a lot of room. Every inch was fought for out there," head coach Rod Brind'Amour said. "It's a great test for us to see how it's done. We see it. They play it right, and we had to tonight to win."
But, the difference was Alex Nedeljkovic, who stopped all 24 shots he faced to earn his first career NHL shutout in his 10th career game and eighth career start - against the defending Stanley Cup champions, no less. He didn't have to see a ton because of the defensive work of five in front of him to prevent chances in the rush and keep pucks to the outside as much as possible, but when Nedeljkovic was tested, he was aggressive and sharp.
Video: TBL@CAR: Nedeljkovic stymies Bolts for first shutout
"We were excellent tonight. We didn't give them much of anything," Nedeljkovic said. "From start to finish, we were playing our game and it showed. We got to them and got a few bounces our way."
As he congratulated his goalie partner on the victory, James Reimer dropped the game puck in Nedeljkovic's glove. That one's a keeper for the Parma, Ohio, native.
"You're just happy for the kid. He's been a part of the organization for a long time. He's paid his dues and waited his time," Brind'Amour said. "He looked good tonight, and he was ready to go. He needed to make some big saves for us tonight, and he did. The guys played hard in front of him tonight. We're just happy for the kid."
"He was great all night. He made some big saves early to keep us in the game," Sebastian Aho said. "It's a great thing to see."
Your first shutout in the NHL coming against the defending champs has to feel good. How about scoring your first goal with your new team against the team with which you won the Stanley Cup just a handful of months prior?
Yeah, that felt pretty good too for Paquette.
The Canes' fourth line of Paquette, Steven Lorentz and Jordan Martinook grinded out a shift and hounded the puck, Martinook forcing a turnover that led to a shot on a goal and a rebound that popped out to a pinching Jake Bean. Bean opened up his hips to slide a pass over to Paquette in the slot, and Paquette found space through Vasilevskiy's five-hole.
Video: TBL@CAR: Paquette scores first goal with Hurricanes
"You couldn't write a better script than that," Paquette smiled.
You really couldn't.
"That's special for him, and it was a big goal at the time," Brind'Amour said.
And how about the set-up from Bean? The vision and hockey IQ to know exactly where to put the puck even before making the pass - that's why he was the 13th overall pick in 2016. Bean now has four assists in as many games this week.
After a scoreless but highly entertaining first period, Trocheck got the Canes on the board a little over two minutes into the second, which marked his 300th career point in the NHL.
From along the near boards, Martin Necas fired the puck into the slot, where Nino Niederreiter deflected it onward. The puck then ricocheted off Alex Killorn and landed at the far post, where Trocheck was stationed to tuck it in.
Video: TBL@CAR: Trocheck records 300th point on opening goal
In addition to being a milestone marker, the goal was Trocheck's ninth of the season, which ties him for the team lead, and his 16th point, also tied for the team lead. Trocheck has now recorded a point in each of the last seven games he's played, a stretch during which he's tallied four goals and five assists.
Aho finished the evening with a goal and an assist, his sixth multi-point game of the season. He gave the Canes a 2-0 lead in the last five minutes of the second period with a highlight reel sequence. The Canes were again overpowering the Bolts in their own zone and forcing turnovers. Brock McGinn and Andrei Svechnikov were hard on the forecheck, and Svechnikov laid off a beauty of a backhand pass to Aho, who had room to skate and a step on Ryan McDonagh. Aho eluded the sticks of both Vasilevskiy and McDonagh to lift the puck up over the Tampa netminder's blocker shoulder.
Video: TBL@CAR: Aho scores after Svechnikov's backhand pass
Aho recorded the primary helper on Svechnikov's empty-net goal late in regulation.
56: Petr Mrazek and Nedeljkovic have combined to deny all 56 shots the Lightning have put on goal in two games against the Canes this season.
6: In addition to his goal, Paquette recorded a game-high six hits.
1: It's still early in the season, but with 25 points in 16 games (12-3-1), the Canes sit in first place in the Central Division.
Hit of the Night
Reaction of the Night
Quote of the Night
"It wasn't a 4-0 hockey game, but I think we deserved the two points tonight." - Rod Brind'Amour
The Canes and Lightning will renew pleasantries on Monday before this four-game set shifts to Tampa for two games.
"They're the defending champs. They play hard every night," Nedeljkovic said. "We've got a long way to go and a lot more games against them. Every time we can get two points against them is huge."