Carolina Hurricanes defenseman Justin Faulk was wearing the fireman’s helmet Saturday after a 3-1 victory over the New Jersey Devils.
The helmet goes to the Canes’ most valuable player in a victory, and Faulk earned it against the Devils in being named the game’s first star. It also fits him well.
In what has become a breakout season, Faulk scored his 15th goal and earned his 47th point of the season. He’s one goal shy of the team record for defensemen in a season – since the franchise relocation in 1997 – and passed Joni Pitkanen for most points by a defenseman in a season.
“It’s obviously nice to have something like that,” Faulk said. “I obviously got a lot of help from teammates along the way. I just try to show up every night and play my game and good things have been happening, I guess.”
Faulk’s third-period goal, on a heavy shot from the point, pushed the Canes (28-36-10) ahead 3-1. Eric Staal scored nine seconds into the third, giving the Canes a jolt of energy and a 2-1 lead.
Staal’s goal, his 21st, tied for the second-fastest in franchise history to begin a period – Ron Francis, now the Canes’ general manager, scored in eight seconds against Edmonton in February 1984. Jordan Staal won the faceoff to begin the third, defenseman Ryan Murphy got off a shot from the right wing and Eric Staal crashed the net, lifting the stick of Devils defenseman Damon Severson to beat goalie Keith Kinkaid.
Chris Terry tied the score with his ninth goal of the season with 1:27 left in the second period. Then Staal struck.
“That allows you to breathe,” Canes coach Bill Peters said. “You’ve been down one (goal), so within two minutes basically you’ve erased the (Devils’) lead and you’re in the lead. I give the guys all the credit in the world for sticking with it.”
The Canes were sluggish at times in the first, falling behind 1-0 when Patrik Elias tipped the puck past goalie Cam Ward on a Devils power play. New Jersey (31-32-12) had five shots in the first and 22 in the game as Carolina limited the Devils’ offensive chances and helped Ward pick up a second straight win.
Terry’s goal came on a well-executed transition as center Victor Rask pushed the puck to Jeff Skinner on the left wing and Skinner threaded a pass to Terry in the right circle. Terry beat Kinkaid with a top-shelf bullet.
“A real good shot and release, and Chris has that ability,” Peters said.
Faulk, who played in the NHL All-Star Game this season, said he was always considered a goal-scoring defenseman in junior hockey. Now in his fourth NHL season, he had eight as a rookie in 2011-2012 but five in each of the past two seasons.
Former Canes defenseman Anton Babchuk scored 16 goals in the 2008-2009 season, and Pitkanen had 46 points the next season in setting the team records.
Getting clean shots isn’t the easiest thing in the NHL and Faulk quipped: “There’s a lot of guys who like to play goalie out there. They must have got cut as a kid or something.”
Nothing comes easily against the Devils. Games against New Jersey are a grind, more tight-checking, with little shooting room.
The Canes had three first-period power plays but managed two shots. The Devils, in contrast, had one power play and scored on their only power-play shot as Elias got the tip.
The Canes, who face the Boston Bruins in a 5 p.m. game Sunday at PNC Arena, played without forward Alexander Semin, who had a hamstring injury.
“As the game went on we were getting better and better, and you could feel that on the bench,” Eric Staal said. “Guys were more confident making plays, and when you do that line after line it makes it difficult on the other team.”