SUNRISE - The Carolina Hurricanes defended first place in the Central Division with a 4-2 win in the first of two straight games against the Florida Panthers.
"Every game is huge. It's the same two points available every night. It's tight standings," Sebastian Aho said. "It was a big win for sure."
HIGHLIGHTS | PHOTO GALLERY | STATISTICS
The Second Period - Again
The Canes were buoyed by a three-goal second period on Tuesday night in Tampa, and the script was the same against Florida on Thursday night. The Canes tallied three times - once at even strength, once on the power play and once shorthanded - in the middle frame to turn a 1-0 deficit into a 3-1 lead.
After a middling, somewhat uneven first period, the Canes tied the game at one just 14 seconds into the second. Jordan Staal slipped a centering pass through the crease, and Jordan Martinook chipped in his second goal in as many games.
Video: CAR@FLA: Martinook buries Staal's centering feed
On the team's third power play of the game, Nino Niederreiter banged home a rebound off a Brett Pesce shot to give the Canes their first lead of the game and hand the Panthers their first deficit in more than five games.
Video: CAR@FLA: Niederreiter puts home rebound for PPG
While on the penalty kill late in the second period, Martin Necas and Sebastian Aho hooked up for a gorgeous shorthanded tally. Necas poked the puck off Brandon Montour's stick at the point, and Necas and Aho were off to the races. The two opened up to face each other - Necas to Aho to Necas back to Aho for the goal.
Two on oh!
Video: CAR@FLA: Aho finishes Necas' dish for SHG
"I thought I'd have a breakaway, but he's fast. He caught me," Aho smiled. "It was a 2-on-0, and it was kind of surprising. You don't get many of those."
Plus: Alex Nedeljkovic and the penalty kill
Special teams was a difference maker in the game, and the Canes' penalty kill was dynamite. The Canes killed off eight of the Panthers' nine power-play opportunities, and Aho tallied two shorthanded goals, including an empty-netter in the final minute of the game.
"Our PK was definitely terrific," Niederreiter said. "We battled through that game. It wasn't pretty, and we found a way."
The Canes had to kill five penalties alone in the third period, including two when it was a one-goal game. They were already without Brady Skjei, who did not play after entering into the concussion protocol, and then they went down Martinook, as well. That meant heavy minutes for some of the Canes' horses. Brett Pesce played a game high 28:18, including 9:42 shorthanded. Of Jaccob Slavin's 27:05 of ice time, 11:56 came on the kill - more than five players logged total in the game.
"Those guys are warriors," head coach Rod Brind'Amour said. "The minutes they logged - those are hard, heavy minutes. The penalty kill is the hard work time of the game. Those guys were great tonight."
As a penalty killing unit, the Canes were solid, and behind them, Nedeljkovic might have been even better. His glove save on a Jonathan Huberdeau rebound chance in the third saved the game and is one of his best and most timely of the season.
Video: CAR@FLA: Nedeljkovic makes a sprawling save
"Ned stood on his head," Niederreiter said, while Necas and Brind'Amour both added that Nedeljkovic was "unbelievable."
In his last 15 starts, Nedeljkovic is 11-3-1 with a 1.59 goals-against average, a .943 save percentage and three shutouts.
Calder Trophy consideration, anyone?
Minus: Losing Jordan Martinook
Martinook absorbed a hip check from Radko Gudas in the second period and labored to get off the ice. He returned after the horn at the end of the period for a quick twirl on the ice but did not play the rest of the game, as the Canes' injury list continues to swell.
"He's pretty sore," Brind'Amour said. "Maybe we'll know more tomorrow."
20: With his two-goal performance, Aho has a team-leading 20 goals this season. He's now reached the 20-goal mark in each of his five career NHL seasons.
12: Now with 12 shorthanded goals in his career, Aho has passed Dave Tippett (11) for the second-most shorthanded goals in franchise history, according to Canes PR. The record is held by Eric Staal (16).
Video: CAR@FLA: Aho scores SHG in the 3rd
3: Cedric Paquette logged his first fight in a Canes sweater when he dropped the gloves with Ryan Lomberg. It was the third straight game in which the Canes have recorded a fighting major, the first time that's happened since April 9-16, 2013, when they did so in four straight games (which included a game in Ottawa with five! fighting majors).
Just Because You Need to See It Again
And so is this.
Quote of the Night
"We played our butts off. That was a great effort by a lot of guys tonight." - Rod Brind'Amour
These two teams will face off for the eighth and final time this regular season on Saturday night.
"These feel kind of like playoff games," Necas said. "It was a huge win, and we've got to build on that."