Aho’s hat trick gives Hurricanes 7th win in 8 games

Carolina chased Nashville goalie Pekka Rinne in a 6-3 matinee win

Hurricanes center Sebastian Aho celebrates after his empty-net goal gave him a hat trick in Carolina's 6-3 win Sunday over Nashville. (Gerry Broome / AP Photo)

RALEIGH — The Hurricanes demoralizing loss in Tampa Bay on Thursday — which ended a five-game winning streak — could have been a turning point in Carolina’s season. Instead, it was just a blip on the radar.

Sebastian Aho had a hat trick and the Hurricanes chased an opposing goalie for the fourth time in their last eight games to win their seventh in that stretch with a 6-3 win over the Nashville Predators in front of 16,347 Saturday afternoon at PNC Arena.

The win moved the Hurricanes to 22-18-5 with 49 points on the season, three behind the Islanders and Sabres for the final wild card spot in the standings.

“We had to have it. Where we were, we knew that,” Brind’Amour said of the team’s current run. “All the teams that are above us, a lot of them have had that already to get to this point. Now we still need to get a few more just to even get up, kind of, in that group.”

Micheal Ferland set a tone with a first period TKO of Nashville’s Austin Watson, and then Carolina did damage on the scoreboard.

The opening goal came after Predators captain Roman Josi fell down, allowing Sebastian Aho in on a breakaway. Aho feigned a blocker-side shot on countryman Pekka Rinne and slid the puck through the five hole for a 1-0 lead at 15:44 of the first.

Just 2½ minutes later, the Hurricanes pushed the lead to two when Justin Faulk centered a pass that hit a Nashville player’s stick but still made its way to the slot. Saku Maenalanen one-timed the bouncing puck in the glove side corner at 18:15 of the opening period.

“He looks like he belongs in this league,” Brind’Amour said of Maenalanen. “And that’s what we need, obviously — guys to contribute up and down the lineup so you can play these guys against anybody. It was a big goal for us tonight.

Nashville cut the lead in half early in the second at 4-on-4 when Nashville captain Roman Josi went end-to-end with the puck and then centered to a streaking Colton Sissons to cut the lead in half 2:48 into the second period.

But that was all the pushback Carolina would allow.

The Hurricanes had a power play coming out of the 4-on-4 play and immediately scored, with Aho getting his 20th goal of the season on a nifty backhand feed from Ferland just 20 seconds later to restore the two-goal lead.

“That was a great play,” Aho said of Ferland’s pass. “That was not something that you practice. That just shows how good a player he is.”

Five minutes later, Lucas Wallmark called his own number on a 2-on-1, going bar down on Rinne.

The power play then struck again when Justin Williams whacked at a loose puck in front of the net and bounced it in off Nashville defenseman Mattias Ekholm’s skate to make it 5-1. It extended Williams’ goal streak to five games and ended Rinne’s night with 15 saves on 20 shots just past the game’s midway point.

“There was a time where we’re playing really good hockey but nothing was going your way,” Brind’Amour said of the team’s recent good bounces. “I think I give the guys credit, the leadership group. They’re the ones continually pushing the message and, to be honest with you, they’re leading by their example.”

Nashville scored shorthanded on another Josi centering feed, this time to Filip Forsberg at 14:29 of a wild middle frame, and then Forsberg scored again on Petr Mrazek (20 saves) with 6:27 left in the game to make it 5-3, but it never got closer.

With Victor Rask in the penalty box and Predators relief goalie Jusse Saros on the bench for an extra attacker, Teuvo Teravainen cleared the puck up to Aho, who accelerated past Nashville defenseman P.K. Subban and deposited the puck in the net with 3:01 left for his second career hat trick.

While Aho again led the way, it was the team effort that most impressed Brind’Amour in a tough-to-get-up-for matinee game.

“I think that was probably one of our better 60-minute efforts all year,” he said. “We had a couple of lapses, but they were more individual, just mistakes, than actual team breakdowns or anything. I thought we played as solid as we could.”

Notes: Phil Di Giuseppe, claimed on waivers by Nashville from Carolina on Jan. 1, played his first game against the team that drafted him. He finished with no shots in 10:18. … The Predators won 40 of 57 faceoffs. … Calvin de Haan was credited with team highs in hits (6) and blocked shots (4). … Mrazek is now 7-0 in his career against Nashville.