Darling carries Hurricanes past Blue Jackets
RALEIGH, N.C. — Scott Darling was fresh physically despite the Hurricanes’ 13-day road trip, but maybe not so on top of things mentally as the Carolina goalie came into a Saturday night game against the Columbus Blue Jackets riding a five-game winless streak.
However, Darling came out aggressive, stopping 35 shots to snap a 0-3-2 skid, and Noah Hanifin’s second-period goal stood up as the Hurricanes defeated the Blue Jackets 2-1.
“That was a big win for the team and a big win for me, too,” said Darling, whose save percentage had dipped below .900. “I haven’t won a game in a while, so this feels good.
“I am learning every day,” added Darling, who was given the starting nod this season over veteran Cam Ward when the former backup came over from the Chicago Blackhawks in a trade and signed a lucrative four-year contract with the Hurricanes.
“Cam has been showing me the ropes, and it’s not going to happen overnight. I’m excited to keep working on it. I wasn’t afraid to go out there and play bad. I just wanted to go out there and have fun. That kind of mindset is something I haven’t been doing a good job of lately.”
Carolina (14-11-7) won its third straight in its first home game after a season-high, six-game road trip that included an overtime victory on Friday night in Buffalo.
The Hurricanes limited the Blue Jackets to eight third-period shots, and Darling faced very few good scoring chances in the final three minutes of the game.
“We’ve got 50 games left, and that’s a lot of hockey, so I want to see how high a quality can we play over these next 50,” Carolina coach Bill Peters said of his streaking team. “That’s the intriguing thing for me and the exciting thing for me because I think we can get to a really high level.”
Blue Jackets coach John Tortorella said, “We’re just not getting a lot of opportunities. We didn’t generate enough second chances. It’s a winnable game if we get some run support. And they really buttoned down the third period.”
Hanifin’s sixth goal of the season with 7:02 left in the second period gave him one more goal than the team’s other six defensemen combined. The fifth overall pick in the 2015 draft had four goals in each of his first two NHL seasons.
The victory improved Carolina to 12-3-4 in its last 19 meetings with the Blue Jackets, who failed to score on the power play in four attempts and are 3 of 38 on the road this season with the man advantage — 30th in the NHL.
Hanifin’s rebound goal came with the teams playing four-on-four. The 20-year-old defenseman drove the net after Jeff Skinner gained the zone and connected on a blind backhanded pass to Derek Ryan.
“He’s getting better in every aspect of the game and he should do that for the next seven years,” Peters said of Hanifin. “That’s what it’s all about. He puts the time in and he wants to be an elite player.”
Carolina opened the scoring 3:40 into the first period. A cross-crease pass from Jordan Staal was broken up by Columbus defenseman Jack Johnson, but the puck deflected off Johnson’s stick and slid under the pads of a surprised Sergei Bobrovsky for Staal’s ninth of the season.
Columbus (20-12-1) tied the score at 12:01 of the first. Cam Atkinson won a board battle and centered a pass to the slot that was deflected past Darling by Alexander Wennberg, who scored just his third goal of the season.
The Blue Jackets peppered Darling with 16 first-period shots.
“I felt confident,” Darling said. “I haven’t had a lot of games where I’ve had a lot of shots that early, so it got me into the game and I was seeing the puck well.”
Peters said, “Scott gave us a chance to build on the game since they outshot us by a two-to-one margin early. We looked like a fatigued team at that time, so credit him for giving us that opportunity.”
NOTES: In a scheduling quirk, Carolina has played Columbus four times in its first 32 games to end the season series with the Blue Jackets while having yet to play Metropolitan Division teams New Jersey, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and Washington. The Hurricanes went 1-1-2 vs. the Blue Jackets. ... Carolina C Jordan Staal moved within four goals of 200 for his career. ... Carolina scored first for the seventh time in its past nine games. ... Columbus was an NHL-best 10-1-1 in one-goal games before the Saturday defeat.