It was the kind of game the Carolina Hurricanes needed, badly.
Winless in their past three games, the Canes needed a victory more than anything and got it Friday, beating the Vancouver Canucks 4-1.
But the man in net for the Canes, Scott Darling, needed to have a quality start and he gave the Canes one. The goalie, who has been struggling with his confidence, made some good early stops and finished with 22 saves.
“He was good, really good,” Canes coach Bill Peters said. “I thought he made some big saves, especially when it was 3-1 and I thought we got a little loose there (defensively) for a little bit in the second. He handled the puck real well, did a good job.
“It’s the best we’ve played in front of him in quite some time, so that goes hand in hand.”
Defenseman Brett Pesce scored 14 seconds into the game and the Canes had a 3-0 lead after the first period as Phil Di Giuseppe and Sebastian Aho added goals — for Aho, his 20th of the season. Justin Williams scored in the third period for a 4-1 lead after the Canucks had made a push in the second.
The four goals were all at even strength — a rarity for the Canes in the past month. Pesce and Aho each had a goal and assist.
The Canes (25-21-9) remained one point below the playoff cutline in the Eastern Conference as the New York Islanders rallied past the Detroit Red Wings in overtime moved into the second wild-card spot with 60 points.
“Every game is huge,” Darling said. “The standings are so tight. You can’t give any points (away), so two were huge tonight.”
The Canucks (21-28-6) were beaten 5-2 by the Tampa Bay Lightning on Thursday and forward Brock Boeser was made a late scratch Friday because of injury. That took the Canucks’ leading scorer — and perhaps the Calder Trophy winner this season — out of the lineup and left Vancouver with 11 forwards and seven defensemen.
But the Canucks played with more intensity and pace in the second period, getting a goal from Michael Del Zotto and denying the Canes on a pair of power plays.
Darling’s last win came Jan. 11 as the Canes won in Washington against the Capitals 3-1. Darling had made three starts since that night, allowing 11 goals in losses to Calgary, Vegas and Detroit as Cam Ward got most of the work.
Pesce blasted a shot from the top of the slot off a Jordan Staal feed for the quick strike. It was the fastest score to start a game by a defenseman in franchise history — Justin Faulk scored in 23 seconds against Nashville on Dec. 5, 2013, and Aaron Ward in 23 against Tampa Bay in the 2005-06 season.
“It’s a good way to start the game, obviously,” Darling said. “It gets the momentum going, gets a little excitement on the bench.
“The guys were great. They were getting pucks and getting out of the zone, that was the biggest thing.”
Canucks goalie Jacob Markstrom earned his first career shutout on Dec. 5 when Vancouver topped the Canes 3-0. This time, he gave up three in the opening period as the Canes moved the puck smartly.
Di Giuseppe’s first goal of the season came after some hard forechecking by center Elias Lindholm, who first beat defenseman Troy Stecher for the puck and later found Di Giuseppe open near the post for the score.
A well-executed stretch pass by defenseman Jaccob Slavin set up Aho for a breakaway in the final minute of the first period.
Del Zotto scored for the Canucks on a shot from the left wing that was twice redirected, glancing off Justin Faulk’s leg in front of Darling.
While Jeff Skinner again failed to score, he forced a Canucks turnover, then passed to Williams in the third, Williams unloading a shot from the right wing.
In a 4-6-1 stretch, the Canes scored 12 even-strength goals. That factored into the decision to place forwards Marcus Kruger and Josh Jooris on waivers Thursday and assign both to the Charlotte Checkers of the AHL when they cleared waivers Friday, with the intent of calling up some players to provide scoring help.