With the kind of jump and offensive intensity the Carolina Hurricanes had Tuesday against the Florida Panthers, they could have had a 2-0 lead after the first period.
That they didn’t, that the Canes had to patiently grind out a 3-1 victory that wasn’t sealed until a late empty-net goal by Justin Williams, may have had more value to a team still trying to mold an identity.
Winless the past four games, the Canes (5-5-3) found themselves in a 1-1 game entering the third period at PNC Arena. The Panthers had an early power play in the third and appeared to finding more energy with each shift.
“It’s easy to be frustrated in any game, especially when you’re not winning a lot,” Canes goalie Scott Darling said. “We talked after the second about this is the type of games we have to win, tied going into the third at home.
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“It doesn’t matter how. Just find a way to win.”
Carolina did it by smartly killing off a Sebastian Aho tripping penalty in the third. Soon after, Canes center Derek Ryan went to the front of the net and tipped the puck out of the air and past goalie Roberto Luongo for a 2-1 lead at 9:35.
Canes coach Bill Peters liked that. After Tuesday’s morning skate, he defined a “good shot” as one that turns the red light on. Ryan did that.
So did Brock McGinn, whose hard work around the crease in the second period earned him a goal off the rebound of a Noah Hanifin shot.
“I think if you add up those two goals they’re not six feet from the net,” Peters said.
Added Williams, “It’s the way we’ve got to score right now.”
It would have been easy for the Canes, who had not won at home since the Oct. 7 season-opener against Minnesota, to let frustration build in the game. Carolina had two power plays and 20 shots in a scoreless opening period, firing at Luongo from all angles and getting off 20 shots.
After McGinn broke through in the second, the Panthers immediately answered on Vincent Trocheck’s power-play score. Outshot 38-17 after two periods, the Panthers had a chance to end their own four-game winless streak.
“But we didn’t say, ‘Oh, no, here we go again,’” Ryan said.
Darling had 14 of his 30 saves in the third, getting some strong play in front of him from the defensemen and back-checking forwards.
“I saw most of the shots and any rebounds that came out they weren’t going to allow any second whacks,” Darling said.
The Panthers (4-8-2) pulled Luongo, who was playing his 500th career game with Florida, with 2:30 left in regulation. But the Canes’ Jaccob Slavin and Justin Faulk blocked shots and Williams, who had the primary assist on Ryan’s goal, shook free for the empty-netter.
The Canes were 0-for-5 on power plays in the game, although they did move the puck better and took the shots that were there.
With defenseman Brett Pesce missing his third game with a concussion, the Canes gave rookie Roland McKeown a second NHL game. McKeown assisted on McGinn’s and Ryan’s goals, earning his first two NHL points and being named first star of the game.
“It feels good,” McKeown said. “You’ve got to believe you can play in this league and I’ve always said when you get the opportunity you have to show what you have.”
And to be first star?
“Obviously it’s just a feather in the cap,” he said. “I’m here to win and help this team get in the playoff race.”
Winning close games can get you there. As Ryan said, it’s about having a winner’s mentality and getting that “swagger” back.
“That’s much closer to how we want to play,” Peters said. “We’ve got to dig in. It’s time to dig in. It’s desperation time.”