Carolina Hurricanes forward Micheal Ferland had his young daughter, Brynlee, up in his arms Sunday after a 6-3 win over the Nashville Predators.
“Did you see Daddy’s fight?” he asked her. “You don’t like when Daddy fights though, eh?’
Maybe not, but his teammates liked it Sunday when he dropped the gloves. His coach liked it. Canes fans loved it.
The game was a little more than eight minutes old when Ferland, who never shies away from a good scrap, dropped the gloves and headed toward the Preds’ Austin Watson. Three punches later, including a brutal overhand right by Ferland, and Watson was on the ice.
“He showed every one of us that we have to be ready,” Aho said. “We were all fired up after that.”
A fired-up Aho would respond with the second hat trick of his career. The Canes would score twice in the first period and add another three goals in the second on Military Appreciation Day at PNC Arena.
Aho pushed his season total to 21 goals and he added an assist for the Canes (22-18-5) while Justin Williams, playing his best hockey of the season, scored in a fifth straight game to tie his career high. That was enough support for goalie Petr Mrazek, who gave up two goals to Filip Forsberg but improved his career record against the Preds to 7-0-0.
It was the first regular-season matchup between Canes coach Rod Brind’Amour and the Preds’ Peter Laviolette, who coached Brind’Amour and the Canes to the 2006 Stanley Cup. Brind’Amour, before the game, gave Laviolette the ultimate compliment, calling him the best coach in the league -- “What I saw him do here I’ll never forget and I try to do a lot of the things he taught us,” Brind’Amour said.
While Aho’s hat trick was the attention-grabber, one lasting memory from the Canes win, their seventh in the past eight games, could be Ferland pounding Watson, no little guy at 6-4 and 204 pounds. It provided so much instant energy that even John Forslund, the Canes’ TV play-by-play man, stood up in his booth and fired off a fist.
“That’s old-school right there,” Brind’Amour said. ‘That really set the tone for our group.”
Ferland did take off his helmet, adding another two minutes for unsportsmanlike conduct to his five for fighting. But the Canes killed off the penalty, then picked up goals from Aho, on a breakaway, and Saku Maenalanen on a shot from the slot for a 2-0 lead.
Aho’s second goal was timely. It came on a power play in the second period 20 seconds after a Colton Sissons goal had pulled the Preds (27-16-4) within 2-1, Aho ripping a tight-angle shot past goalie Pekka Rinne off a Ferland pass.
When Lucas Wallmark knocked a short-side shot past Rinne off the rush, it was 4-1 and the Canes weren’t done. Williams scored with a quick whack in front after the puck first went off Ferland, then Preds defenseman Mattias Ekholm.
Make it a second power-play goal for the Canes and a 5-1 lead and ended Rinne’s day. Williams, who has points in seven consecutive games, last scored in five straight games in the 2012-13 season with the Los Angeles Kings.
Aho’s third goal finished off a memorable day -- a shorthanded empty-netter to go with his power-play score and even-strength goal. That had the hats flying and later laying at his feet in the locker room.
Forsberg scored shorthanded while the Canes were on a four-minute power play after Brock McGinn was bloodied with a high stick from Ryan Hartman. His second pulled the Pres within 5-3 with 6:27 left in regulation.
The Canes’ penalty killers were called on again in the final five minutes after Victor Rask was called for hooking and the Preds pulled the goalie for an extra attacker. But the Canes’ Brett Pesce dug the puck out of the corner to Teuvo Teravainen, who pushed it up the boards to Aho, who outraced P.K. Subban to the empty net.
Aho’s first goal came after the Preds misplayed the puck in the Carolina zone. A Roman Josi pass hit the skate of Calle Jarnkrok, the puck skidding toward the blue line as Aho took off on the breakaway.
Ferland, who finished with two assists, had his first three-point game Friday in the Canes’ 4-3 win over the Buffalo Sabres. Teravainen also had a pair of assists Sunday.
“We were outplayed,” Laviolette said. “They were quicker, they wanted it more, they executed better. I think they give a lot of teams fits. They’re a good hockey club, fighting for a playoff spot.”