Martin Necas equaled a career best with a four-point performance to lead the Carolina Hurricanes to a 4-3 victory against the Tampa Bay Lightning.
"Both teams played hard, right? The games are intense. The further the season goes, every game is huge. That's the defending champs, so obviously it was quite a challenge for us. I'm proud of how we responded," Sebastian Aho said. "It was a great team effort."
HIGHLIGHTS | PHOTO GALLERY | STATISTICS
Martin Necas has been a breakout performer for the Canes this season, and with each passing game, each elite playmaking pass and each highlight reel goal, you're seeing him develop into a star.
Necas factored in on all four goals and equaled a career high with four points, including two goals on the power play, one of which was the game winner.
"He's a great player. He's got all the skill in the world. The way he skates is pretty impressive. He's a fun player to play with. I feel like we kind of think the game the same way," Aho said. "He stepped up for us tonight, for sure."
Necas already had two assists in the second period before he added a third point - the third straight game in which he's scored a goal - to put the Canes ahead 3-2 on the power play.
Andrei Svechnikov's shot deflected off Aho in the slot, and Necas pounced on the loose puck to fire it past Andrei Vasilevskiy.
Video: TBL@CAR: Necas rifles stray puck in for go-ahead PPG
The Lightning scored just 22 seconds into the third period to tie the game at three, and Necas came up big again. On a power play with a little less than four minutes to play in regulation, Necas stepped up and, from the top of the right circle rifled a wrist shot through Jordan Staal's screen in front and past Vasilevskiy.
Video: TBL@CAR: Hamilton extends streak on Necas' second PPG
"I don't think he's ever lacked confidence. From day one, he's always trying to make plays. We encourage it, and now there's a little more understanding of when and where to make plays. He's matured, and physically, he's a little stronger," head coach Rod Brind'Amour said. "It's just his maturity physically. He's always had the confidence."
With 17 points (7g, 10a) in 10 games this month, that confidence is only going to keep building.
Even though they trailed the Lightning 2-0 after the first period, the Canes didn't have a bad opening 20 minutes. Tampa Bay was quicker off the draw and got a couple of bounces to go their way early, but the Canes settled in and had some looks. The best scoring opportunity belonged to Necas, of course, a glorious rebound chance that Vasilevskiy denied with his right toe.
In the intermission, the Canes took a breath, made a few adjustments and came out and played their game.
"Shift after shift, we played our own game," Aho said. "We competed hard. It was a good game by us, even though the start wasn't ideal."
Cedric Paquette got the Canes on the board about two-and-a-half minutes into the second period, and 62 seconds after that, the game was tied. By the time the two teams headed back into the locker room for the second intermission, the Canes had a 3-2 lead.
"The guys just kept playing. I was proud of the effort tonight," head coach Rod Brind'Amour said. "Whether we got the two points or not I thought it was just a solid game all around."
Paquette is a role player, an important one for the Canes, as he provides a sandpaper element up front that was sorely missing before the team acquired him in February.
But, as seen in the last two games, he can also chip in offensively, sometimes even when the team needs it most.
Paquette slid a puck past an old teammate to get the Canes on the scoreboard in the first few minutes of the second period. As the Lightning tagged up on a delayed offside and rolled a line change, Brett Pesce made a quick play up the ice to Necas at the far blue line. Paquette snuck behind his old teammates to skate in on a breakaway and got just enough on his wrist shot. Vasilevskiy reached behind him in desperation, but by the time he got to the puck, it had just rolled over the goal line.
Video: TBL@CAR: Paquette beats Vasilevskiy off the rush
"Vasi takes breakaways after every morning skate, and I don't score on him," Paquette smiled. "I just told myself that I wasn't going to try what I did in practice and just tried to shoot through him. It worked."
The goal was Paquette's second in as many games and fourth of the season, and though he was only credited with two hits, he had his nose in multiple dustups around the ice in what was a chippy, playoff-like game.
"He's in a tough spot because I don't play him that much. I could probably play him more, but every shift he goes out there, he gives it everything he has," Brind'Amour said. "Whether he scores or not, he's noticeable. He's a great teammate. The guys really, really appreciate the way he plays."
The Canes were on the board, and they were buzzing. Just 62 seconds after Paquette scored, the Canes tied the game at two.
Taking advantage of another Bolts defensive breakdown, the Canes skated in on a 3-on-1 rush. Necas outwaited a sliding Jan Rutta to drop the puck back for Nino Niederreiter. Niederreiter faked a shot, settled the puck and dished over to Aho for the chip shot over Vasilevskiy.
Video: TBL@CAR: Aho caps tic-tac-toe play with goal down low
Aho now leads the Canes in goals (15) and points (33) through 33 games.
14: With the primary assist on Necas' game-winning goal, Dougie Hamilton extended his point streak to 14 games, the longest by a defenseman in franchise history and the longest by any NHL player this season. Only 12 other defensemen in NHL history have recorded point streaks of 14 games or longer.
10-1-2: The Canes are 10-1-2 through 13 of 14 games in March.
4,433: With the ability to expand capacity, the Canes welcomed 4,433 fans inside PNC Arena, and the energy they brought - still just a fraction of a packed house - undoubtedly contributed to the playoff-type atmosphere.
"Right away when we first came out, it felt like, 'Wow, we've got a hockey game here.' There was a lot of energy," Brind'Amour said. "It says a lot about the people coming in there. They're definitely not sitting on their hands. It was a fun atmosphere in here tonight. They were entertained."
Quote of the Night
"Two great teams going at each other. … It was physical, and I don't think the two teams like each other. It's a good chance we see them more." - Cedric Paquette
The Canes will hit the road again to square off against the Chicago Blackhawks on Tuesday and Thursday.