Justin Faulk was just as puzzled as everyone else.
The Carolina Hurricanes defenseman had scored 12 goals this season and all came on the power play. Faulk has the big shot and logs big minutes every game but had not scored at even strength.
Faulk unloaded a shot from the slot in the third period, giving the Hurricanes the winning goal in a 3-1 victory over the New Jersey Devils at PNC Arena.
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Faulk and forward Joakim Nordstrom each had a goal and assist for Carolina (14-16-5), and rookie defenseman Brett Pesce scored on a shot from the right point in the second period. Add in another effective game from goalie Cam Ward and some stingy defense and it added up to a pretty complete victory.
Nordstrom was named the game’s first star and received the fireman’s helmet for the first time as the team MVP. All Faulk got was chirps from teammates.
“That’s the running joke right now, that I can finally score at even strength,” Faulk said, smiling. “I’ll take ’em any way I can get ’em. I got the even-strength monkey off my back, I guess.”
Faulk was the first player in NHL history to score his first 12 goals of a season on the power play. He leads the Canes in points and in shots with 105.
Faulk’s goal came after Kyle Palmieri had tied the score 1-1 early in the third with his 15th of the season. Pesce scored on a shot from the right point midway through the second – later receiving the puck from a ref during a timeout for his “first career goal” even though it was his third.
But the Canes caught a break in the third period when Devils defenseman Eric Gelinas lost his stick in the defensive zone. Faulk took a pass from Eric Staal and blistered a shot past goalie Cory Schneider at 8:17 of the period.
Nordstrom scored with 3:14 remaining in regulation on a shot from the left wing.
The Canes believed they hit a low point Dec. 3 in a 5-1 loss to the Devils. The lackluster home-ice defeat caused personnel changes, as rookie defenseman Jaccob Slavin went back into the lineup and forward Phil Di Giuseppe made his NHL debut.
The first game after the Christmas break also can be unpredictable, and the Canes had not played since a 2-1 loss Monday to the Washington Capitals.
“But I thought we were good and deserved to win,” Eric Staal said. “They’ve been a pretty good team all year and they had a push. But we responded with a big goal by ‘Faulker’ to get us back on top and then a big goal by (Nordstrom) to finish it off.”
Ward, making his fourth straight start, had 19 saves for the Canes, who play the Chicago Blackhawks in a road game Sunday. The Devils (17-14-5) had just six shots in the third, but Ward made goal-saving stops against Lee Stempniak and Adam Henrique before the Nordstrom score.
Pesce’s goal came after sustained pressure in the offensive zone by the line of Jordan Staal, Andrej Nestrasil and Nordstrom. Nestrasil screened Schneider as Pesce’s winged a low shot.
“Both goaltenders were good,” Canes coach Bill Peters said. “It was a little bit of a battle coming off the break, but I thought for the most part our guys hung in there.”
And Faulk scored at even strength.
“He was due,” Peters said.