Sunrise, FL -- Sebastian Aho scored two shorthanded goals and Martin Necas added three assists, as the Carolina Hurricanes (31-10-5, 67pts) defeated the Florida Panthers (30-13-5, 65pts) 4-2 on Thursday night.
Jordan Martinook and Nino Niederreiter also scored for Carolina.
Aleksander Barkov scored twice for the Panthers.
"It was a gross hockey game, but that was because we were in the box the whole game," Carolina head coach Rod Brind'Amour said, following the victory.
Indeed, Carolina was assessed nearly twice as many penalty minutes on the night--27 for Carolina, compared to 15 for the Panthers. In the third period alone, the Canes were shorthanded five times.
"We played our butts off...had to kill penalties...[some guys had to] log [a ton] of minutes...block shots...I'm thrilled [to win]," Brind'Amour said.
Two of the Canes logging some of those minutes were Sebastian Aho and Martin Necas. The duo rose to the occassion and provided one of the season's highlights--a 2-0 shorthanded breakaway that ended with Aho's 2nd shorthanded goal of the season.
"I knew that [Aho] was going to give it to me back, so I was just ready when the goalie moved to give it to him back. Fortunately, [the goalie] moved and [Aho] had an empty net," Necas said.
It was the icing on the cake to a fantastic 2nd period from the Canes, who rallied after giving up a 1st period goal to the Panthers.
Jordan Martinook evened the game only 14 seconds into the period, then Nino Niederreiter got a powerplay goal at 11:09 to give the Canes the lead.
Aho and Necas' dazzling shorthanded breakaway put the Canes up 3-1.
After the game, Florida coach Joel Quenneville discussed the impact of the shorthanded goal.
"Shorthanded goals are generally deflating; they change the complete complexion of a game. You can [withstand] some bad powerplays that give up momentum, but if you give up a shorty, it's a complete package."
In the third period, the Canes faced a never-ending parade to the penalty box. However, despite almost ten minutes of shorthanded play, the Canes gave up only one powerplay goal on the night.
In the end, the game ended with another Florida powerplay, Bobrovsky on the bench, and another shorthanded goal from Sebastian Aho--assisted, once again, by Martin Necas.
"We're similar players; we think the game the same way," Necas said, referring to his chemistry with Aho. "We can read off each other very well, and that helps a lot."
Alex Nedeljkovic (12-4-2, .933 SV%, 1.87 GAA) won his fourth-straight start. He made 32 saves on 34 shots faced.
Carolina now takes sole possession of 1st place in the Central Division standings. They lead Florida by two points and Tampa Bay by three. They also retain two games-in-hand over Florida and one game-in-hand over Tampa Bay.
Jordan Staal and Brett Pesce each recorded one assist for the Canes.
Nikita Gusev, Patric Hornqvist, Jonathan Huberdeau, and Keith Yandle each had an assist for Florida.
Jordan Martinook left the game after taking a hip check from Radko Gudas. Brind'Amour didn't have an injury update on Martinook, other than to note that he was sore.
Teuvo Teravainen (concussion), Brock McGinn (upper body), Jake Bean (healthy), and Petr Mrazek (lower body) did not dress for the game.
Sergei Bobrovsky (17-8-2, .908 SV%, 2.83 GAA) took the loss for the Panthers. Bobrovsky made 25 saves on 28 shots faced.
Carolina: The Hurricanes remain in Florida and play their final regular-season matchup against the Panthers on Saturday night at 7:00 ET.
Florida: The Panthers take on the Canes on Saturday night at 7:00 ET.