RALEIGH — It took only 14 seconds for the Carolina Hurricanes to jump on the weary and battered Vancouver Canucks.
Brett Pesce’s goal on the game’s opening shift set the tone, and the Hurricanes took advantage of an opponent that was dominated in Tampa Bay the night before and riddled with injuries for a 4-1 win in front of 13,123 on Friday at PNC Arena.
“You can’t ask for a better start than that, less than 20 seconds in scoring a goal, getting on the board, getting going,” Hurricanes forward Justin Williams, who scored his 10th goal of the season in the third period, said. “We’d lost three in a row. We need to get some traction, so that was a good start.”
Pesce jumped in the play and accepted a pass from Jordan Staal, ripping a shot past Vancouver goalie Jacob Markstrom for the early lead.
The Canucks, 5-2 losers in Tampa Bay on Thursday, were without star rookie Brock Boeser, forward Markus Granlund and defenseman Chris Tanev and lost for the fourth straight time. They looked the part of a bruised and battered team in the first.
Carolina continued to pressure and added to the early goal, getting two in the final six minutes of the opening period build a three-goal cushion.
First, Hurricanes forward Phil Di Giuseppe got his first goal of the season — his last was Dec. 4, 2016 — by knocking the puck in to the right of Markstrom (29 saves) at 14:43 of the first.
Then in the final minute of the opening period, Jaccob Slavin sprung Sebastian Aho for a breakaway and the sophomore Finn got his 20th goal of the season to extend Carolina’s lead to three. It was Aho’s ninth goal in the last dozen games.
A Michael Del Zotto shot 3:30 into the second period from the left point redirected off two Hurricanes and past Scott Darling to cut the Hurricanes lead to 3-1.
That was the only goal that got by Darling, who made 22 saves and won for the first time in nearly a month (Jan. 11).
“I’ve just been working hard in practice the last couple weeks, biding my time, making sure I’m as ready to go as I can possibly be for this one,” he said. “I felt really good tonight.”
Since Thanksgiving, Darling is 3-9-2 and is now 10-14-6 on the season, but Carolina will need him to contribute in the final 27 games if it is going to keep up in the Eastern Conference wild card race. The win boosted the Hurricanes to 59 points, just one behind the Islanders for the second wild card spot. They have a game in hand on the Islanders, and also moved past Columbus with their win and the Blue Jackets’ loss to Washington.
“The game means nothing tonight if you don’t win tomorrow,” said Williams, whose insurance goal capped off the scoring. “You’ve gotta follow up stuff and we need to string some wins together.”
The Hurricanes host Colorado at 8 p.m. Saturday, the seventh game in an eight-game homestand that they’ve gone 3-2-1 on thus far. Peters was hopeful that team’s dominant first period would be repeated against the Avalanche.
“Our starts have to be better no matter if we’re playing a team on a back-to-back or straight up,” he said. “Colorado has us back-to-back tomorrow, but our starts have to be better in every situation. I think they will be. I think the guys understand the importance of getting off to a good start and playing with the lead.”
Notes: Canucks defensemen Alexander Edler and Troy Stecher were both minus-4. Stecher was credited with seven blocked shots. … Victor Rask won 8 of 9 faceoffs. … Teuvo Teravainen led the team with 10 shot attempts, but missed on several Grade-A scoring chances. … Former Hurricanes first-rounder Brandon Sutter led the Canucks with four shots on goal.