RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — Stuck on the ice for gruelling overtime shifts, Martin Necas knew he had better come up with an answer.
Necas scored with 40.1 seconds left on the clock in overtime to lift the Carolina Hurricanes to a 3-2 win over the Ottawa Senators on Tuesday night.
“I was gassed. When I saw it was the last minute, I wanted to get out there,” Necas said. “I had energy at the end there and it was important.”
Jesperi Kotkaniemi and Brady Skjei each had a goal and an assist for the Hurricanes, who maintained their three-point lead over New Jersey atop the Metropolitan Division despite squandering a two-goal lead. Stefan Noesen had two assists.
Antti Raanta made 25 saves to improve to 18-2-3 as Carolina notched its 50th win of the season.
Claude Giroux and Brady Tkachuk had goals for Ottawa and Alex DeBrincat registered two assists.
The outcome spoiled the NHL debut for Senators goalie Leevi Merilainen, who made 34 saves. The 20-year-old from Finland stopped all 21 shots across the second and third periods to give Ottawa a chance.
“He is years ahead of himself,” Senators coach D.J. Smith said. “He made some big saves, looked really calm and it is good for him.”
Necas attempted a wraparound earlier in overtime, but lost control of the puck. He wasn’t deterred.
“It’s always about your next shift and I’m happy for that,” he said. “Plenty of time there and trying to just beat someone 1-on-1 and get some odd-man rushes.”
Seth Jarvis delivered a pass to Necas, who connected for the game-ending sequence with his NHL-leading fourth overtime goal.
“His skill set is uniquely crafted for open ice because he has a lot of speed and has a good shot,” Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour said. “He has a flare for the dramatic.”
Giving Necas another opportunity in the extra session made sense.
“Those guys seem to miraculously get their wind back in overtime because they want to get back out there,” Brind’Amour said.
Necas has a career-high 27 goals, but his OT tally ended an eight-game stretch without a goal. He has five game-winning goals, though his first in that category since late January.
“You know about it,” he said. “I’m not trying to think about it too much.”
Carolina looked strong in the first period. Kotkaniemi’s 16th goal of the season came 1:50 into the game.
Skjei’s power-play goal came with 4:02 left in the first, giving him 18 goals. That matches the most goals for a defenceman in the franchise’s 25 years in North Carolina.
Giroux broke free toward the net and took a perfect pass from DeBrintcat for his 27th goal.
The Hurricanes failed to convert on a 5-on-3 power play that spanned the second and third periods. Then the Senators notched their first power-play goal in three games when Tkachuk converted at 2:52 of the third to tie the score at 2-2.
Raanta is riding an eight-game winning streak and 17-game stretch when the Hurricanes have earned at least one point.
He tends to build on each outing.
“You go out there and have confidence from the last game,” Raanta said.
Brind’Amour said the Hurricanes will have decisions to make regarding goalie assignments in the post-season. Frederik Andersen has won a team-high 20 games.
Giroux has scored 14 career goals vs. Carolina, marking the highest number for any current Ottawa player. … Tkachuk has posted nine goals in the last 12 games. … The Hurricanes are 32-3-4 when scoring first this season.
Senators: At Florida on Thursday to conclude a three-game trip.
Hurricanes: At Nashville on Thursday to begin a three-game road trip.
Bob Sutton, The Associated Press