In his season debut, Justin Williams scored the game-deciding shootout goal to lift the Carolina Hurricanes to a 2-1 win over the New York Islanders.
James Reimer made 26 saves on 27 shots in 65 minutes of work, plus another six saves on eight penalty shot opportunities to help the Canes capture two points and remain a perfect 3-0 in the shootout.
Here are five takeaways from Military Appreciation Night.
1. A Big Two Points
After going winless in three straight games (0-2-1), the Hurricanes knew they had to get back in the win column, especially against a divisional opponent they were chasing in the standings. And though the Islanders still were able to collect a point, the Canes added another to the "W" column, just their fifth in 16 games against the Metropolitan Division this season.
That one was critical, even in mid-January.
"Everybody is in it. Everyone understands that all these points are so valuable. The push has been on for a little while," head coach Rod Brind'Amour said. "We needed those points. It was a good night."
Video: In the Room: Brind'Amour Postgame vs NYI
And, of course it was Williams making a difference in his first game back with his fifth career shootout-deciding goal.
"It was a really, really well-contested hockey game," he said. "They played hard, and we played hard. Both teams were patient enough, and we got that last point."
2. Mr. Round 8
As the shootout dragged on - round four, five, six and seven - you had to wonder.
Would Justin Williams come over the boards?
After Casey Cizikas lost the puck in the seventh round of the shootout - a fourth straight round where neither team was able to find the back of the net - Brind'Amour tapped Williams. The veteran forward hopped over the boards, and the sellout crowd roared.
You kind of knew what was coming next, too.
Williams gathered the puck at center ice, cruised in between the circles and snapped a shot that beat Thomas Greiss five-hole.
Video: NYI@CAR: Williams scores SO goal, leads Storm Surge
"He's a very patient goalie, so I figured I'd try and shoot it five-hole," Williams explained, simply enough.
Mr. Game 7 morphed into Mr. Round 8 and brought the house down.
Reimer then stopped Anders Lee, and victory belonged to the Canes with Williams as the hero in his long-awaited return. A better ending could not have been scripted.
"Not really," Brind'Amour agreed. "Only Willy can make that up."
"It was all a conspiracy from the beginning. That was the plan," Reimer joked. "We fooled everyone."
3. He's Back
Williams first touched the ice two minutes and 35 seconds into career game No. 1,245, and he was greeted with a loud ovation from the eighth sellout crowd the Hurricanes have had at PNC Arena this season.
Finally, Williams was back.
And he was admittedly a bit nervous about it, maybe more so than he's used to being.
"I was nervous the whole game, to be honest. It was a playoff game out there. That's what it felt like that. Teams weren't giving an inch. There were chances either way, and it could have gone either way," he said. "I've played over 1,200 of these, so I was like, 'OK, Justin. Get real here. You can do this.' It was fun. We got what we wanted: two points."
Video: Postgame Quotes: Justin Williams
Williams finished the evening with five shot attempts, three shots on goal, a hit and a blocked shot in 13:06 of ice time.
"He certainly didn't look out of place. Right from the start, his first shift was a good shift. That was encouraging. I expected him to be a little more rusty, to be honest with you," Brind'Amour said. "He fit right in."
Williams' fit in the lineup seemed natural, and it looked as if he had not missed the first three-and-a-half months of the regular season. That's a credit to the work he put in behind the scenes to prepare for this moment.
"I was nervous for him," Brind'Amour admitted. "You've been out that long, that's what made me nervous for him, but he put in the work and it showed."
4. Reimer Stands Tall
James Reimer, making his second consecutive start, improved to 11-6-1 on the season. In his last three starts, he stopped 102 of 105 shots (.971 save percentage), and over his last 13 starts, Reimer is 9-2-1 with a 2.14 goals-against average, a .931 save percentage and three shutouts.
Video: Postgame Quotes: James Reimer
Reimer saved the game late in regulation with a solid blocker-side stop on Matthew Barzal, who was in all alone. He had to be good in a back-and-forth 3-on-3 session and came up big when he had to be in the skills competition.
"He was great tonight," Brind'Amour said. "At the end, there were a bunch of chances for both teams. All of a sudden it opened up, and there were a lot of grade-A looks. Reims stood his ground. Another solid game out of him."
5. Svechnikov Matches Age in Goals
The 19-year-old Andrei Svechnikov tallied his 19th goal of the season 5:45 into the game to give the Canes an early 1-0 lead.
Svechnikov one-timed a pass from Brett Pesce, a shot that bounced off the defending stick of Noah Dobson and then eluded Greiss.
Video: NYI@CAR: Svechnikov nets goal off defender's stick
Svechnikov ranks second on the team goals (19) and points (43) and third on the team in assists (24).
The Canes were able to play with a lead until late in the second period, when Anders Lee pounced on a rebound and swept it in, a 1-1 score that would then have to later be settled in the shootout.
The Hurricanes host the Winnipeg Jets in their final game before All-Star Weekend and the bye week.