So you wanted to see something different. You wanted proof the Carolina Hurricanes wouldn’t fall into old habits, wouldn’t repeat old mistakes, would find some way to start out moving forward, even if only incrementally.
There wasn’t much of that at the second intermission Saturday. The new season looked a lot like the old season and seasons before. Dominating play, piling up shots and still trailing. An old story.
Could the Hurricanes give this sellout crowd, one that was grilling outside early and standing inside late, a reason to come back Tuesday for a weeknight game against Columbus that figures to be slightly less well attended?
Could they ever.
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Looking for signs of a new era? How about a shootout win for starters, 5-4 over the Minnesota Wild, with Scott Darling making two saves before forcing Eric Staal to shoot wide on the third. Shootout wins, especially those where the Hurricanes only need to score once, haven’t exactly been plentiful around here.
Or how about Sebastian Aho taking over the game in the third period? (After Justin Williams, welcome back, had been the Hurricanes best player through the first two.) Aho set up the score-tying goal by Noah Hanifin and then went spinning through the high slot to deliver a perfect pass to a streaking Victor Rask on the right wing for what should have been the game-winner.
The spin move, through a very dangerous area on the ice to be looking the other way, had the distinct aura of creative genius. Aho confirmed this afterward when asked if he knew what he was doing. “To be honest, no,” he said. Pure instinctive magic, exactly what one would expect from a talented 20-year-old ready to take a step forward in his second NHL season.
And how about Hurricanes coach Bill Peters showing some tactical flexibility? After pairing Justin Faulk with Jaccob Slavin throughout the preseason, he abandoned that after only 20 minutes to restore the Slavin-Brett Pesce pairing. And he needed only 10 minutes to put Williams and Jeff Skinner on the same line, at which point they displayed some inherent chemistry.
“With all the changes,” Peters said, “it’s going to take a little bit of time to get everybody in their roles and feeling confident.”
Then, obviously, there was Darling, the first goalie not named Cam Ward to start a PNC home opener since Kevin Weekes in 2003. He had allowed three goals on 18 shots through two periods, none of which were glaringly his fault, but still, that looked all too familiar. But he was strong in the third, especially on loose pucks and scrums in his crease, which he was able to end quickly, and he was terrific in the shootout.
He wasn’t able to end the scramble in the final seconds of regulation because the Wild’s Matt Dumba was in his crease and in his way. A video review determined that Mikko Koivu beat the buzzer, with 0.3 seconds left, but did not result in an ex post facto goaltender interference call, presumably because Dumba was shoved into that spot by Derek Ryan.
All’s well that ends well, even if Darling was so wrung out afterward he needed intravenous fluids. The Hurricanes got a big assist from Wild coach Bruce Boudreau, who sent out Eric Staal for the Wild’s final shootout attempt instead of Matt Cullen. Any Hurricanes fan would know from brutal experience to bet on one of those guys to convert in the shootout and not the other.
So began Year 3 of the self-proclaimed “Redvolution.” By this point, Washington had already crossed the Delaware and was getting ready to leave Valley Forge. He was also still five years away from actually finishing off the British.
The Hurricanes don’t have that long. They need to show progress this year. They need to end the playoff drought. They need to win games like Saturday’s, when they trail through two periods and find the goals they need, or when they end up in the dreaded shootout and get two points anyway.
If you wanted signs the Hurricanes are a different team, they were all there, even if it’s just one night of 82, even if the real hard work lies ahead when there isn’t the same energy in the building – and it was terrific, like the old days – and there isn’t that opening-night adrenaline to draw upon.
Still, it’s a start. It’s a step in the right direction. It may or may not be the first night of a new era, but any new era has to start with something like this.
Sports columnist Luke DeCock: 919-829-8947, firstname.lastname@example.org, @LukeDeCock