If the powers that be for the Carolina Hurricanes wanted to send a message to their players by waiving forwards Marcus Kruger and Josh Jooris on Thursday, you can consider that message received.
Three first period goals from Brett Pesce, Phil Di Giuseppe, and Sebastian Aho got the Hurricanes going quickly and gave them a lead they would not relinquish.
The Hurricanes had been sputtering around aimlessly for the last three games, but thanks to some simultaneous incompetence from some of their division rivals and fellow wild card hopefuls, they remained right in the thick of the hunt for the Eastern Conference’s final two playoff spots.
Goaltender Scott Darling was solid in his return to the crease, stopping 22 of 23 shots in his first win in nearly a month.
“He was good,” head coach Bill Peters said of his goaltender after the game, “I thought he made some big saves, especially when it was 3-1. We got a little loose... and he made some big saves and handled the puck real well. He did a good job. It’s the best we’ve played in front of him, too, in quite some time. So that goes hand-in-hand.”
“I’ve just been working hard in practice the last couple weeks,” Darling said. “Biding my time, making sure I’m as ready to go as I could possibly be for this one, and it felt really good tonight.”
The Hurricanes wasted no time putting goals on the board, as Pesce’s goal was the result of an energetic first shift. The puck was in the net just 14 seconds after the clock began ticking. Jordan Staal and Aho picked up the assists on his goal.
Later in the first, di Giuseppe picked up his first goal of the season when Elias Lindholm won a puck battle and worked the puck to the side of the net. Di Giuseppe jammed it past Canucks goaltender Jacob Markstrom, who left a sliver of space along the ice on the post.
“Yeah, real happy for him, obviously,” Peters said of the winger who hadn’t scored since late 2016 prior to tonight. “Tight knit group and there, and [they’re] real happy for him.”
The third Hurricanes goal of the first was a thing of beauty. Jaccob Slavin sent a gorgeous pass up the ice to Aho, who had found separation from the Vancouver defenders. Aho broke into the zone, showed forehand, went to the backhand and slid the puck through the five-hole of a sprawling Markstrom.
That goal mercifully marked the end of a tough first period for Markstrom, who was hung out to dry as he stopped 7 of the 10 shots he faced in the period. Darling was a perfect 6-for-6 in the first.
He wasn’t quite so flawless in the second period, when a point shot Michael Del Zotto careened off a Hurricane for two and in behind the goaltender to cut the Carolina lead to 3-1.
The road-weary Canucks mustered somewhat of a push in the second period, as they doubled their shot output from 6 in the first period to 12 in the second, but their inability to cut the lead to one in the second frame seemed to eliminate their will to win.
“You could tell they kind of got their legs under them a little bit in the second period,” Justin Williams said. “And then we kind of shut it down... a little bit of loose play when we were up three-nothing, but Darling had a great game for us.”
The Hurricanes came back strong in the third period, dominating the puck and putting the game away when Jeff Skinner made a strong play and left a puck for a streaking Williams, who confidently beat Markstrom up high to put the game away at 4-1.
With the dominant third period, the Hurricanes wound up winning the shots on goal battle by a margin of 33-23.
The Hurricanes return to action tomorrow night, when the Colorado Avalanche make their first and only visit of the season to Raleigh.
“There’s always another game,” Williams said. “Again, the game means nothing tonight if you don’t win tomorrow. You’ve got to follow up stuff, and we need to string some wins together.”
Rank the Performances
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