RALEIGH — Following the morning skate ahead of Friday’s preseason finale, Carolina Hurricanes coach Bill Peters said that night’s game was “gonna be the taste that you’re left with going in to the Minnesota game.”
After a 3-1 win over a Washington Capitals team with several veterans sitting out, Peters seemed walk away with a cleaned plate.
“When it mattered we dug in, didn’t give up much in the third period and closed the game out the way you’re supposed to close the game out when you enter the third with a lead, and we’ve done that throughout the preseason,” he said. “That’s good, that’s a good sign.”
The Hurricanes now prepare for Saturday’s season opener at home against the Wild, hoping to start the season off strong after years of early struggles that have often sunk the team and frustrated the fanbase.
The fans on attendance Friday left happy, plus they also got their first look at new goaltender Scott Darling, starting his first game at PNC Arena as a member of the Hurricanes after signing a four-year, $16.6 million contract in the offseason.
One of his first times touching the puck Friday he skated out to nearly the blue line to prevent a shorthanded chance, and that play — and each significant save afterward — elicited cheers from 8,797 in attendance hoping the 6-foot-6 Darling is the answer to Carolina’s goaltending woes.
“It was fresh ice, so I knew it wasn’t going to slow down,” Darling said of the puck sliding into the Carolina zone. “And so I just hauled ass as fast I could out there and luckily got to it first.”
Darling said he felt more comfortable in his second start with the Hurricanes, even if he only saw 19 shots — compared to the 31 Carolina registered — in getting the win.
“Well, he gave up one,” Peters said when asked to access his new goalie’s performance. “So if we can hold teams to one and 20ish shots, I think that’ll give us a chance.”
Peters was still reluctant, however, to name Darling the starter for next Saturday’s opener.
As for the final exhibition game, defensive scoring was the order of the day.
Justin Faulk, playing alongside Jaccob Slavin, fired a long wrister from the point that Capitals goalie Philipp Grubauer couldn’t track — thanks to a nice screen by Brock McGinn — to open the scoring at 10:37 of the first.
Matt Niskanen tied 30 seconds into the second period, sneaking between the hashmarks and beating Darling, but Carolina reclaimed the lead just over two minutes later.
On the power play, Jordan Staal found Noah Hanifin creeping in from the left point, who shot then grabbed his own rebound and tapped it in for a 2-1 lead.
Trevor van Riemsdyk then added an insurance goal early in the third, taking a wide-angle wrist shot that beat Grubauer over his left shoulder on the short side for a 3-1 lead at 5:11 of the final frame.
“I think that was just pretty fortunate. … Just trying to throw pucks at the net and sometimes you get a lucky break,” van Riemsdyk said.
While Carolina was fielding close to an opening night lineup — Lee Stempniak and Teuvo Teravainen each missed the game with injuries — there were still players jockeying for a spot on the roster.
McGinn made his case to be alongside Marcus Kruger and Joakim Nordstrom on the fourth line — the trio was on the ice for both of Carolina’s even-strength goals and McGinn directly contributed to Faulk’s tally.
“That line was real good and he was a part of it being physical,” Peters said of the fourth line and McGinn. “And our angle on the bench on the first period, the goalie didn’t see anything, right? … Ginner was in a real good spot.”
Martin Necas had at least two setups that could have wound up in the net, and Janne Kuokkanen did not look out of place on a line with Victor Rask. Decisions will loom for both, and could hinge on whether one of both of Teravainen and Stempniak are ready to go in eight days.
“We’ll beat that up a little bit tomorrow. … Everyone will have their opinion, and I’m sure we’ll spend some time on that,” Peters said of any pending roster moves.
Notes: The Carolina defense combined for 16 shots on goal and 25 total shot attempts. Hanifin and Faulk led the team with four shots on goal, while Brett Pesce had a team-best eight shot attempts. … Carolina won just 18 of 43 faceoffs, with Kruger’s 5 of 8 the best performance. … The Hurricanes managed to steer clear of the box most of the night, taking just one penalty (Faulk for holding) compared to five calls against the Capitals, including a double faceoff violation that led to a bench minor.