RALEIGH — Jesper Fast had scored every which way this postseason: even strength, shorthanded, empty-netter, overtime winner.
So when Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour put him on the power play in the fourth game of Carolina’s second round series with the Devils, it was only a matter of time before he added to his collection.
And it came at the most opportune moment.
With the Hurricanes on the power play in overtime after Devils defenseman Jonas Siegenthaler was penalized for shooting a puck over the glass, Brind’Amour sent out his second unit late in the man advantage.
Paul Stastny won the offensive zone faceoff and Carolina got to work. Jack Drury and Shayne Gostisbehere played catch at the far boards before the latter passed to Jesperi Kotkaniemi at the other point. Kotkaniemi shot from the top of the right circle and the puck deflected off of Fast and went in, giving the Hurricanes a 3-2 win in Game 5 at PNC Arena and sending Carolina to the Eastern Conference finals.
“I know it hit me. I actually haven’t seen where,” said Fast, who scored his second overtime winner of the postseason. “I felt it and then looked back and it was in the net.”
Fast had joined the second power play unit, replacing Jesse Puljujarvi when he was scratched for Game 4 in favor of Mackenzie MacEachern. Brind’Amour said the decision was about having a right-handed player on the goal line.
And someone who “always does the right thing,” Kotkaniemi said.
“His play on the ice, you see that kind of effort every night,” Brind’Amour said of Fast. “He never deviates. And then you just love when those guys get rewarded like this and kind of get their due.”
It was vindication for Fast, who misfired on two scoring chances earlier in the game.
“I had a weird feeling going into overtime,” he said. “I missed two kind of good opportunities, I felt like the next one will go in.”
It did, and it set off a celebration as the Hurricanes reached the Eastern Conference finals for the first time since 2019 and fifth time in franchise history. They will face the winner of the Panthers-Maple Leafs series. Florida leads 3-1 with Game 5 scheduled for Friday.
“I said from the start, you just want to be a part of something special and be part of the grind,” said 38-year-old defenseman Brent Burns, who waived his no-trade clause in the offseason to come to Carolina and scored the goal that tied that game at 2-2 with 38 seconds left in the second period. “It’s just been a fun year. … The longer it goes, the better it is.”
It was a game of momentum swings, with the teams alternating goals through the first 40 minutes.
The Hurricanes controlled play for the first 15 minutes, but it was the Devils who scored first. New Jersey exited the Carolina zone and rushed up ice, and Timo Meier came up the left wing and zipped a pass to the far post that Dawson Mercer knocked in for a 1-0 lead at 15:06.
Carolina tied the game 50 seconds into the second period when Jaccob Slavin’s point shot hit Siegenthaler and got past Schmid (36 saves) to knot the score.
“There can be ebbs and flows within a game,” Slavin said, “but we stuck to our game the whole time.”
But at 7:07 of the middle frame, Kotkaniemi retaliated to a late hit by Curtis Lazar and was called for roughing. The Devils needed just eight seconds of their power play to score, with Dougie Hamilton’s point shot creating a rebound that Meier whacked in for a 2-1 New Jersey lead.
It was the only point of the series for Hamilton, who finished the series with a minus-10 against his former team.
“They did their homework,” Devils coach Lindy Ruff said of the Hurricanes shutting down Hamilton. “They knew what he had done for us. And they know, seeing he played here, what he can bring offensively and when he gets an opportunity. So I think he got some special attention.”
Brind’Amour credited his assistant coaches, specifically video coach Chris Huffine, with crafting a game plan against the Devils.
“He pinpointed a bunch of things that we had to make sure we were aware of, and then we hammered (them) home and then made sure to eliminate,” Brind’Amour said. “And I thought we did a heck of a job doing that. So I think that had a huge part of it.”
Burns’ end-of-period goal helped the Hurricanes carry momentum into the third when they outshot the Devils 11-5 and had a 30-13 advantage in 5-on-5 shot attempts.
“We knew we still had our best hockey to play,” Slavin said. “I think we showed that in the third there and carried it into overtime.”
Carolina also had Frederik Andersen backstopping them. He made his best save of the night with the game tied 2-2 at 9:11 of the third period, stopping Devils forward Ondrej Palat by closing his five-hole on a chance in front.
After being blamed for some of the failures the Maple Leafs had in the playoffs when he was their goaltender, Andersen made 27 saves to improve to 5-0 this postseason.
“I’ve waited for a few years to get this opportunity,” Andersen said, “and just make the best of it and enjoy it.”
The Hurricanes will be able to bask in their win for at least a couple of days as they wait to find out their next opponent. With home-ice advantage throughout the rest of the playoffs, Carolina will host Games 1 and 2.
“I’m an old guy sitting on the bench and just watching this and enjoying watching how hard everybody’s working together,” Brind’Amour said. “It’s just — it’s a great group.”
Notes: Jordan Martinook assisted on Slavin’s goal, extending his point streak to five games and getting his 10th point of the series and playoffs. … Fast has five goals in 11 playoff games this year. He had eight in his previous 54 postseason games. … Carolina has won seven straight playoff overtime games, including three in this postseason.