The Carolina Hurricanes traded for center Erik Haula, wanting to add more scoring.
They traded for James Reimer, wanting to add a veteran goaltender.
They signed Jake Gardiner, bringing in a defenseman who could easily fit on the back end and wanting to improve the power play.
But as Canes coach Rod Brind’Amour said, the only way to really “bond” with your new teammates is to be in the battles with them. And not just be in the battles, win them.
That all came together Saturday in the Canes’ second game of the season. On a night when the Washington Capitals were celebrating their home opener, rolling out the red carpet at Capital One Arena, Haula, Reimer and Gardiner were a vital part of the Canes’ 3-2 overtime win.
Reimer, in his first start for the Canes, had 32 saves, six in overtime. Haula, in his second game, scored on a third-period power play to get the Canes on the board.
Finally, Gardiner had the winner, finishing off a two-on-one with Sebastian Aho by ripping a short-side shot past goalie Braden Holtby.
“Obviously it helps us but it’s more them feeling a part of the group,” Brind’Amour said. “When you can contribute, it’s automatic now. You’re like OK, you feel like you’re a part of the group. I think it’s huge for those guys.”
Haula scored a career-high 29 goals two years ago for the Vegas Golden Knights and was a part of their sensational run to the 2018 Stanley Cup final in their inaugural season. A severe knee injury limited him to 15 games last season, and the Golden Knights then traded him to Carolina for center prospect Nicolas Roy and a draft pick.
But Haula, in two games, has shown his offensive skills. In the Canes’ season opener Thursday against the Montreal Canadiens, he prowled around the slot and crease and finally beat Habs goalie Carey Price for a third-period goal that tied the score 3-3. The Canes went on to win a shootout, 4-3.
Against the Caps, Haula did it on the power play, teaming with Teuvo Teravainen for a score as he knocked the puck past Holtby for the Canes’ first goal of the game.
“We’ve been practicing that in practice a lot,” Haula said. “He’s making the play and I’ve just got to finish it off.”
It would have been easy for the Canes to be frustrated. Holtby was brilliant in the first period, turning away breakaway attempts by Martin Necas and Aho, and the veteran stopped all 19 shots he faced in the first 40 minutes.
“I thought we played a good first period and maybe we deserved a little better but Holtby made great saves,” Haula said. “But it shows a lot about our group that we have good players up and down the lineup and every line can score. We’re real dangerous and we’re not going to ever quit. I like that.”
Goalie Petr Mrazek was in net for the Canes season opener, emerging with the victory in the shootout. It was Mrazek who beat the Caps in Game 7 of their memorable Stanley Cup playoff series last season, in Capital One Arena.
But Reimer, inconsistent last season with the Florida Panthers, was a battler Saturday. He allowed goals to the Caps’ Garnet Hathaway and then power forward T.J. Oshie as Washington took a 2-0 lead after two periods, but stopped the last 15 shots, making a lunging save on an Alex Ovechkin shot in overtime.
“He was great,” Haula said. “It’s great to get both goalies feeling good right away.”
Everything changed when Brind’Amour challenged what would have been a second goal by Hathaway that had the arena rumbling and would have given the Caps a 3-0 lead late in the second. The Caps’ Brendan Leipsic bumped into Reimer in the crease and Brind’Amour’s challenge was upheld on review -- no goal.
“It was in my crease and I felt like it’s textbook interference, but at the same time you never know if it’s going to get called,” Reimer said, smiling. “Thankfully that one went our way.”
Haula’s goal, then Jaccob Slavin’s off the rush at 9:50 of the third -- moments after a nice stop by Reimer on a John Carlson shot from the slot -- tied it 2-2. Reimer kept making saves, it went to overtime, Reimer made more saves and Gardiner ended it.
Gardiner had Aho to his right on the rush and had Holtby guessing: pass or shot? Gardiner shot.
“I had a pretty good angle at it and thought it was the right decision,” Gardiner said.
Moments later, the Canes swarmed around Gardiner. They congratulated the winning goalie.
This battle with the Caps was over and they had won, together.