Sebastian Aho was back and scoring.
The Carolina Hurricanes were beating the Ottawa Senators, winning the first game of a critical eight-game homestand.
Canes owner Tom Dundon was fist-bumping fans at PNC Arena, posing for selfies.
It was quite the Tuesday for Dundon and the Canes, who topped the Sens 2-1 on Victor Rask’s power-play goal in the third period and Cam Ward’s 29 saves.
Dundon, mindful that the ticket presale for the game was not very high, decided to open up the lower bowl and club level for fans with tickets in the upper level. Many took advantage of the offer and upgrade, although the crowd of 11,448 had little to cheer the first 40 minutes in a grinding game that had the Sens leading 1-0 after the second period.
But as fast as Aho could get off a big slapshot, everything changed for the Canes (23-19-8).
Aho had missed the past four games after taking a frightful hit from Mark Giordano of the Calgary Flames in the Jan. 14 game at PNC Arena. Aho suffered a concussion and knee injury on the play, although the Canes’ five-day NHL bye week and All-Star game break allowed him time to rest and recover.
Cleared by doctors after Monday’s practice, the Finnish forward blasted a shot past goalie Craig Anderson early in the third for a 1-1 tie. Aho, who scored five goals in five games before the injury, leads the Canes with 17.
“He wanted to play, he wanted to be an impact player and we needed him out there,” Ward said
Rask ripped a shot from the left wing off a pass from Justin Williams at 11:32 of the third for his 12th of the season.
Canes coach Bill Peters made some line changes during the game that clicked, moving Teuvo Teravainen back on Jordan Staal’s line with Aho — reuniting the “TSA” line — and taking Brock McGinn off the fourth line and back with Rask and Williams.
“That line’s got a little bit of mojo,” Peters said of Rask’s line.
The Sens (15-24-9) have struggled through a frustrating season and now have dropped six straight. Anderson gave them a chance with 37 saves, and forward Jean-Gabriel Pageau gave them a 1-0 lead in the second with a shot that glanced off Canes defenseman Jaccob Slavin and past Ward.
But Ward made some big stops, including a few in the final seconds of regulation as the Sens pushed. It also helped that the Sens hit the post a number of times.
“In the third, we knew the desperation and importance that needed to take place,” Ward said. “That’s exactly what we showed in the third.”
Added Rask, “We found a way to win.”
The power-play goal by Rask was the Canes’ 16th in the past 17 games. That’s one way as the Canes ended a four-game losing streak on home ice and pulled within two points of a wild-card playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
But this night, Aho was named the game’s first star.
“The first period, I was a little rusty,” Aho said. “I think the second and third I did pretty well.”