RALEIGH — The Carolina Hurricanes have their starting goalie for Thursday’s opener, a decision made easy for coach Rod Brind’Amour due to an injury to Scott Darling.
Darling left the second period of Sunday afternoon’s preseason finale against Nashville at PNC Arena with a lower-body injury, and Tuesday it was revealed he will miss time — meaning Petr Mrazek will earn the start in Thursday’s home game against the New York Islanders.
“I hate it for him more than anything,” said Brind’Amour, who estimated Darling would be out at least a couple weeks. “He put in some work this summer. In the little time that we got to see him, he looked different. He looked like a solid goaltender in there and was giving us a lot of confidence. We just hope he gets healthy and back to where he was.”
Rather than recall prospect Alex Nedeljkovic from AHL Charlotte, which Brind’Amour said after practice would be the “No. 1 option,” the Hurricanes claimed veteran goalie Curtis McElhinney off waivers from the Toronto Maple Leafs about 15 minutes later.
“Curtis is a proven NHL goaltender,” Hurricanes general manager Don Waddell said in a statement. “Scott Darling is dealing with an injury and we see this as an opportunity to solidify our depth at the position.”
The Hurricanes will be the seventh NHL team for McElhinney, 35, a journeyman who played the last two seasons in Toronto. He was 11-5-1 in 2017-18 with a 2.14 goals-against average and a .934 save percentage, the best statistical season of his career. A sixth-round pick by the Flames in 2002, McElhinney, has also played in Calgary, Anaheim, Ottawa, Arizona and Columbus. The London, Ontario, native played NCAA hockey at Colorado College in the early 2000s.
McElhinney could be pressed into service early — the Hurricanes play at home Thursday, then travel to Columbus for a game Friday before returning to face the Rangers on Sunday at PNC Arena. They play again at home next Tuesday against Vancouver, opening the season with four games in six days.
McElhinney is in the final year of a contract that will pay him $850,000. Since he is on a one-way deal, McElhinney is set to make the same amount in either the NHL or AHL.
Toronto lost two goalies on waivers Tuesday when the Flyers claimed Calvin Pickard, so it’s possible that, once Darling is healthy and if the Hurricanes were to waive McElhinney, he could return to Toronto and be assigned directly to the AHL’s Marlies is the Leafs are the only team to put in a claim.