Saros stops 64 shots, Predators beat Hurricanes 5-3

Max Pacioretty had five shots on goal in his Hurricanes debut

Hurricanes forward Max Pacioretty has his shot go off the hand of Nashville Predators center Mark Jankowski in front of Predators goaltender Juuse Saros during Nashville’s 5-3 win Thursday in Raleigh. (Karl B. DeBlaker / AP Photo)

RALEIGH — It was a long wait for Max Pacioretty to finally get back on the ice and make his Hurricanes debut.

Carolina honored his return with a team-record 67 shots on goal, matching the veteran’s number. Unfortunately for the Hurricanes, Nashville goalie Juuse Saros stopped 64 of them.

Mark Jankowski tipped a Ryan Johansen shot five minutes into the third period and Saros did the rest, shutting down Carolina in a 5-3 Predators win Thursday in front of 18,344 at PNC Arena.

“It was as good of a game in net as you’re ever going to see,” Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour said of Saros’ performance. “That’s the story. You can write other things, but essentially that’s the difference.”

Saros made his biggest save with just over two minutes left.

With Carolina on the power play, Pacioretty one-timed a shot from the right faceoff circle that Saros stopped with his right toe. The rebound went right to Andrei Svechnikov, who tried to put it in the vacant net. But Saros quickly recovered, lunging to make the second save and prevent Carolina from tying the game.

“You put up 70 shots, you’ve got to win the game,” Brind’Amour said. “Now, we didn’t; gotta bury those. What you’ve got to do is give credit where credit is due.”

The silver lining was the play of Pacioretty, playing his first game with the Hurricanes since being acquired by trade from Vegas in July and then missing the season’s first 38 games after suffering an Achilles tendon injury in August before the start of training camp.

“I was kind of looking to either hit someone or get hit,” Pacioretty said of his approach in his first game in more than eight months. “You stop thinking after that. So that was my goal, and it helped me get in the game.”

He finished with six shots on goal and nine attempts in all, adding two hits in 15:15 minutes of ice time.

“He was better than I thought,” Brind’Amour said. “He didn’t look like he’s been out for however many games he’s missed. He looked like he was right away ready to go, so I was impressed.”

Despite the disparity in shots — Nashville had 25 to Carolina’s 67 — the game was back and forth on the scoreboard.

First, the teams exchanged power play goals in the first period.

Carolina struck first when Teuvo Teravainen set up Brett Pesce for a one-timer that hit a Predators player and then deflected in off Paul Stastny’s leg for his second goal of the season at 7:41.

The Predators responded when Filip Forsberg got a clean look from the right circle and beat Pyotr Kochetkov (20 saves) up high on the short side to tie the game at 10:29.

The start of the second period offered more of the same, but this time at even strength.

With the teams at 4-on-4 after Jesperi Kotkaniemi was called for embellishment on a Mattias Ekholm penalty near the end of the first period, Pesce set up Brady Skjei for a redirection in front that beat Saros for his seventh goal of the season just 35 seconds into the middle frame.

Nashville quickly responded. Ekholm, freshly out of the penalty box, got space near the right circle off a faceoff and blasted a slap shot past Kochetkov to even the game again at 2:47 of the second.

Carolina regained the lead just before the midpoint of regulation.

Carolina forward Jordan Martinook picked Ekholm’s pocket in the neutral zone and pushed the puck ahead to Jesper Fast. Fast then sprung Jordan Staal through the seam of the Predators’ defense, and the Hurricanes captain — in his 700th game with the franchise — ripped a wrist shot past Saros’ glove for a 3-2 Carolina lead.

The Predators again responded, this time with Cody Glass being left alone at the post to tie the game 3-3 at 11:55.

“I think the lesson is we took a couple of breathers there where we just didn’t quite bear down, and boom — that was the game, and that’s hockey sometimes,” Brind’Amour said.

Notes: Pacioretty became the third player in franchise history to wear No. 67, joining Morgan Geekie (2021) and Jerome Samson (2010). … Colton Sissons added an empty-net goal with three seconds left for Nashville’s fifth goal. … Nino Niederreiter was given a standing ovation from the PNC Arena crowd when a tribute video was played during the first period of his first game back in the arena since signing with Nashville. He finished with a Predators-best five shots on goal. … Svechnikov, who led all players with eight shots on goal, matching a career high, was chosen as the first Hurricanes player to represent the team in this year’s All-Star Game in Florida.