Carolina Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour believed the Canes were playing their best hockey of the season -- before the NHL All-Star Game break, before their mandated bye week.
The long rest period over, the Canes finally returned to the ice Friday to play, looking for a victory over the Vegas Golden Knights at PNC Arena and coming away with a 5-2 win.
“It was a real solid effort,” Brind’Amour said. “Both teams probably thought they were a little sluggish and not too sharp. The execution wasn’t great. But the effort level, I thought, was really high. I’m really happy obviously with the win but the way we played.”
Nino Niederreiter scored his fifth goal in five games since his trade to the Canes for a 1-1 tie in the first period, and Brett Pesce and Jordan Martinook had goals in the second -- Martinook finishing off a memorable week in which he became a father with the birth of his son, Chase, and signed a two-year contract extension.
The Canes’ Sebastian Aho, coming off his first All-Star appearance, then provided an all-star move in the third, sweeping down the ice and scoring with a slick, quick backhander that beat Vegas goalie Max Lagace to the short side. That made it 4-2, Canes.
Goalie Petr Mrazek earned his 11th win of the season, making 23 saves and the big stops when needed. And Justin Faulk became a new franchise leader in career points by a defenseman for the Canes (25-20-6), who are 10-3-1 in their past 14 games. .
Faulk also had a late empty-net goal and was plus-5 for the game, a career best.
“You look up and down our lineup and everybody contributed,” Brind’Amour said.
Defenseman Shea Theodore had both goals for the Golden Knights (29-20-4), who also were playing their first game after the all-star break and their bye week.
The game didn’t start well for the Canes. Theodore’s first goal, barely five minutes into the first period, came on a power play and gave the Golden Knights a quick lead. Theodore’s blast from the right wing caught Mrazek a little deep in net.
“It was good on the guys not to get down after that first goal,” Faulk said. “It’s always tough after a long break and the other team gets the first one. You don’t really know how the team is going to react and if they’re going to get down or they’re come back and just keep going. We were able to do that.”
Niederreiter and Justin Williams teamed up for a tying goal on a play that also was the record-setter for Faulk.
Faulk passed to Williams as he went to the front of the crease, only to have Williams use the back of his right skate to kick the puck to Niederreiter in the slot for his fifth goal since the Jan. 17 trade from the Minnesota Wild.
“That’s a top 10 play for me,” Brind’Amour said. “You’re not going to see too many guys think to do that.”
Faulk’s assist gave him 241 career points, passing Dave Babych for the franchise record for points by a defenseman. Babych set the record from 1985-91 with the Hartford Whalers.
Asked about the record, Faulk said, “It’s not really in my head right now, to be honest, just playing and trying to do my thing out there.”
Goals by Pesce and Martinook, sandwiched around Theodore’s second of the game, left the Canes with a 3-2 lead entering the third.
Pesce’s fourth of the season may have been his easiest. Lagace lunged out of the net attempting to play the puck, only to have Vegas’ Brayden McNabb fall over him, leaving the net open for a Pesce snipe.
Martinook’s goal came 36 seconds after Theodore had tied the score 2-2 with a shot from the left circle that had Mrazek screened. On a rush into the zone late in the period, Brock McGinn’s pass set up Martinook for his 11th of the season, tying his career high set in 2016-17 with the Arizona Coyotes.
Mrazek was forced to make a couple of tough saves in the final moments of the second to preserve the lead. “He’s been real solid, making some saves at key times,” Brind’Amour said.