The Carolina Hurricanes lost the lead in the final second of regulation Saturday in their season-opener.
It may have been a good thing.
The Canes didn’t lose the game. They beat the Minnesota Wild 5-4 at PNC Arena in a shootout – in just the kind of game the Canes might have lost in recent years.
The Canes have bemoaned the points given away in overtimes and shootouts, losing 15 games last season and 16 the season before that. It can become a mental thing, a drag on the collective team psyche as the season wears on. And many of the players remember how the 2016-17 season began, with a blown three-goal lead in the third period on the road against the Winnipeg Jets and then a 5-4 overtime loss.
While the Canes gave up a point Saturday, it didn’t really matter. The Wild are a Western Conference team. The important thing was finding a way to get the two points, and they did that on Jaccob Slavin’s shootout goal and goalie Scott Darling’s three stops in the shootout.
“Confidence is a big part of any sport, and I think this will give us confidence,” Canes coach Bill Peters said.
Slavin was the Canes’ third shooter and beat goalie Alex Stalock by faking the forehand and lifting a backhander. He’s now 4-for-9 in his career on shootout shots, with three game-winners.
Was that his patented go-to move?
“I guess so,” Slavin said, smiling. “I think I’ve referred to it as a go-to, but I’ll probably have to mix up last time.”
The Wild had a chance to extend the shootout and who did it send out but Eric Staal. In a week in which the Canes’ selection of co-captains was a debated topic – Jordan Staal and Justin Faulk will serve as co-captains – the outcome of the game rested with the former Canes captain.
Eric Staal had scored on a second-period breakaway, beating Darling with a blocker-side shot as the Wild took a 3-1 lead. But Darling made the shootout stop, forcing Staal to miss the net, and a sellout crowd of 18.680 that included Canes owner Peter Karmanos could leave happy after many spent the afternoon tailgating outside the arena before the game.
On a night when forward Justin Williams played his first regular-season game for the Hurricanes since February 2009, when rookies Haydn Fleury and Janne Kuokkanen made their NHL debuts, when the Canes celebrated the 20th anniversary in Raleigh, it all ended well for Carolina.
It would have been good to get Darling’s thoughts on his first game with the Canes. The big man was getting medical treatment after the game, and Peters said he may have needed an IV for cramping.
It could have ended after 60 minutes. Victor Rask, who had a goal and assist, scored late in regulation to give the Canes a 4-3 lead, and Carolina was less than a second away from winning it when Minnesota’s Mikko Koivu knocked in a shot as the Wild went to an extra attacker.
The Canes argued for goaltender interference and the play was reviewed, but the goal stood, and the Canes had to quickly refocus.
“It’s never easy,” said Jordan Staal, who wore the “C” for the Canes in the opener. “At the same time that’s hockey, right? It’s an emotional game and there are ups and downs. When there’s a big shift in momentum you have to let it go and get back to it.”
Staal’s line, with Sebastian Aho and Elias Lindholm on the wings, was strong throughout the game. Aho, assisted on both Canes goals in the third period, was named the game’s first star and Lindholm also had two assists in the third.
There was scoring help. The fourth line provided some jam and a goal as Joakim Nordstrom scored Carolina’s first goal of the season in the first. Defenseman Noah Hanifin scored off the rush in the third, taking a nice setup pass from Aho, who had the puck on his stick a lot in the period.
“We just kept playing. We were playing with good pace and we were fast,” Aho said.
The Canes, who had a 42-27 shooting edge, couldn’t get a shot on net in 1:28 of a 5-on-3 power-play advantage in the second period. But Derek Ryan had a power-play goal, tipping a Williams shot past Stalock for a second-period goal. The Canes rallied in the third.
Carolina was 5-9 in games decided in the overtime period last season and 3-6 in shootouts. They’re 1-0 this season.
“There’s a whole different feel to our group,” Peters said.
Just one game, but it was a win. In the opener. In a shootout.