Canes' Harrison coming into his own

Journeyman helping rookie blueliner Faulk while posting career highs

calexander@newsobserver.comJanuary 14, 2012 

— Jay Harrison scored a goal for the Carolina Hurricanes in the first period Thursday, on a shot from the left wing that surprised Tampa Bay goalie Mathieu Garon.

His fight also was in the first period. The Lightning's Ryan Malone dropped the gloves and wanted to go at it, and Harrison quickly obliged.

Then, in the third period, Harrison assisted on Tim Brent's goal that sealed a 5-2 road win over the Lightning at Tampa Bay Times Forum.

Just like that, Harrison had a career first. The defenseman had completed a "Gordie Howe hat trick" - a goal, assist and a fight in the same game. The achievement is named after the Hall of Famer who could score and slug it out with the best of them.

"It's kind of a nice feat, to have it come together like that," Harrison said Friday. "It shows you're, you know, involved in the game in most capacities.

"It was just one of those games where you're involved physically and got to contribute as well offensively. But the game, for us collectively with our skating and our execution, was as good as it has been all year."

'Experience and confidence'

Harrison's goal was one of four by the Canes in a blistering first period. Jiri Tlusty scored twice, Tuomo Ruutu had a goal and Eric Staal three assists, leaving Tampa Bay to lean on Malone to show some fight.

In past seasons, a Harrison goal was a rarity. In 130 NHL games before this year, he had scored four times.

But Harrison now has six goals and 11 assists this season, both career highs. He has been used on the power play and called on to unload his big shot from the point.

"I've been getting some nice breaks," Harrison said, smiling. "God knows, enough pucks have gone in off me in my career, so it's nice to get a few back.

"It's more working to get more opportunities. I've always been a shooter and had a hard shot, with good placement and a pretty good release. It's getting yourself in position to do that, and that comes with some experience and confidence."

Harrison, 29, also has been a steadying influence on rookie defenseman Justin Faulk, as the two have become a reliable defensive pairing for Canes coach Kirk Muller.

"They like playing with each other," Muller said. "It's a nice combination of puck movement and 'Harry' being a big, strong guy who works well with 'Faulker.' They've had some good chemistry."

Dynamic duo

Harrison and Faulk, 19, also are roommates on the road, giving them added familiarity.

"He's been around the league and knows all the in's and out's," Faulk said. "When he sees something on a shift, he'll come back to the bench and let me know if there's something that we can do better together or I can do better by myself. As an older guy, he knows more about how things work and the speed of the game than I do.

"Off the ice, on the road, it's pretty mellow with us. It's good. I think it keeps me calm and makes it easy to relax."

Faulk has been a quick learner. He was one of 12 rookies chosen selected Thursday to participate in the 2012 NHL All-Star Weekend in Ottawa later this month.

"He's pretty exceptional for his age and extremely poised," Harrison said. "Our games kind of mesh well. He skates well, he controls the puck, he's not afraid to shoot. I play solid and physical. We help each other out and are starting to read off each other a little bit."

The Hurricanes (15-23-7) face the Boston Bruins (28-11-1) tonight at the RBC Center in what should be another test. The Canes have beaten the defending Stanley Cup champs twice this season, but both wins came in October while Boston was said to be dealing with a Cup "hangover."

In the second game, Oct. 18 in Boston, the Canes won 4-1. The Bruins imploded that night, taking 17 penalties.

"We frustrated the (heck) out of them," Harrison said. "We played very well. They were a different team than they are now, obviously, and we are, too. We need to come and execute our game and be on top of it because they are rolling quite well."

Harrison smiled when asked how many Bruins probably could claim "Gordie Howe hat tricks."

"I imagine there's a few on that team," Harrison said. "Man for man, pound for pound, they're a team that's really tough. They're really disciplined in their systems and they finish everywhere. That's a style we need to give right back to them."

Alexander: 919-829-8945

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