RALEIGH — On the day his signing with the Carolina Hurricanes was formally announced, Justin Williams said once his press conference was over the story would no longer be about him, but the team.
The 38-year-old is making it awful hard to make it about someone other than him.
Two nights after he scored the shootout winner in his first game back, Williams had two goals on a team-high five shots on goal to lead the Hurricanes into their All-Star/bye week break with a 4-1 win over the Winnipeg Jets in front of 14,607 Tuesday at PNC Arena.
“I was a beneficiary of a couple really great passes — I just had my stick on the ice,” Williams said of on-the-mark passes from Teuvo Teravainen and Andrei Svechnikov that allowed him tap-ins past Connor Hellebuyck (13 saves). “I’m feeling comfortable, I’m feeling better than I did last game, and I hope to feel better the next game.”
His teammates weren’t surprised.
“He got two goals today, he could’ve had a hat trick,” said Martin Necas, who opened the scoring at 2:28 of the game and made the pass that nearly got Williams a third goal. “He’s a big help.”
His coach wasn’t shocked either.
“I don’t care how old you are if you know how to play, know where to go, and that’s kind of what he does,” coach Rod Brind’Amour said. “So it’s not surprising to me. I don’t expect him to do that, but it’s not surprising.”
The first 6½ minutes produced three of the game’s five goals — and gave the Hurricanes a lead they’d never relinquish.
First, Necas got his 12th goal of the season, coming down the right side, blowing past Winnipeg defenseman Neal Pionk and quickly cutting across the crease and sliding the puck past Hellebuyck for the early 1-0 lead.
“That play was just in my head. … He kind of closed short side and there was the space to go by him,” Necas stated matter-of-factly.
Then Necas drew a hooking penalty on Jets defenseman Sami Niku at 5:00
With Erik Haula a healthy scratch, Williams took the vacant spot on the top power play unit — and it immediately paid dividends.
Just 30 seconds into Niku’s penalty, Teravainen threaded a pass into the slot and Williams got position on Winnipeg’s Anthony Bitetto and redirected the puck in for his (official) first goal in just his second game back.
“He just knows where to be, and like today, just be in the right place a couple times and he knows how to score,” Teravainen, who finished with three points, said of Williams.
The Jets got one back less than a minute later, with Patrik Laine scoring his 17th of the season when he was left alone in the slot for a one-timer at 6:26.
The scoring barrage slowed, but Carolina still got one more before the end of the first.
Sebastian Aho flew up the right wing and flung a shot that hit Hellebuyck and went behind the net. Aho raced to it and slammed on the brakes, creating space and then spotting Teravainen to the right of the net. Teravainen’s quick shot found the top corner over Hellebuyck’s glove to make it 3-1 at 18:22 of the opening period.
The Jets carried play in much of the second, but neither team scored and the third belonged to Carolina.
Williams’ second came on a 2-on-1 rush with Svechnikov, who zipped the puck to the far post for a tap-in.
“I just went as hard as I can to the back post and the puck was right on my stick,” Williams said. “I can score when there’s an empty net.”
His third nearly came on the power play, with Svechnikov making a cross-ice pass to Necas that the rookie one-timed to Williams in front, but the puck didn’t find its way in.
The crowd then got in on hat trick fever, chanting Williams’ name when the Jets pulled their goalie with over three minutes left. But a fight between Winnipeg’s Mark Scheifele and Carolina’s Brett Pesce, followed by a Hurricanes penalty kept Williams off the ice until the final 3.8 seconds.
The fans cheered for Williams again, then another time when he was named the game’s first star.
Just business as usual for No. 14.
Teravainen, already in his suit and readying for a trip back to Finland for the eight-day break, summed it up perfectly.
“He knows how to play.”
Notes: Williams played just 11:45, but it was his second career game scoring two goals when playing under 12 minutes. The other time was Nov. 18, 2000, when Williams had two goals and an assist when playing 10:13 in the Flyers’ 5-3 over Washington. He was 19 days and 45 days old. Tuesday he was more than twice that age at 38 years and 109 days old. … The fight was the first of Pesce’s career. … Jordan Staal won 14 of 21 faceoffs. … Teravainen had three points for the fourth time this season.