When the Carolina Hurricanes took a 3-0 lead Thursday against the Calgary Flames, the reaction in the hockey Twitterverse was predictable.
Among the tweets: “Wooo, Canes got that 3-goal lead. Now it’s time to blow it.”
When the Flames, playing at home at the Saddledome, pulled within 3-2 in the third period, some tweets had a doom-and-gloom feel.
Among them: “If Canes possibly (manage) to blow another 3-goal lead I might just jump off a cliff.”
But this time, the Canes didn’t lose the lead. Some of it, but not all of it.
This time, Jeff Skinner added a late power-play goal to finish off a 4-2 victory over the Flames, the Canes’ first win of the season.
After losing three-goal leads, and games, against the Winnipeg Jets and Vancouver Canucks, Canes coach Bill Peters said there was a different vibe this time.
“More poise and confidence in each other, in the system,” he said. “I thought the guys did a real good job staying poised.
“I’d love to have a three-goal lead every night. We’ll get better playing with the lead. We’ll get better managing situations as we go and we’ll learn as we go.”
Skinner had a goal and assist, and the Canes’ first goal of the game was interesting. It came when Sebastian Aho brought the puck into the offensive zone, pulled up and passed to defenseman Noah Hanifin, who found Teuvo Teravainen in the low slot. Teravainen scored off his own rebound for a 1-0 lead.
To recap the passes in the scoring play, that was a 19-year-old to another 19-year-old to a 22-year-old, who refers to Aho as “the kid.”
Hanifin finished the game with three assists, the most of his 83-game NHL career. “He’s going to be a star. He’s coming,” Peters said.
But for the Canes (1-1-2), there was much to like:
▪ Rock-solid penalty killing. Defenseman Brett Pesce and forwards Jay McClement and Viktor Stalberg were among the aggressive penalty killers who denied the Flames on six power plays.
▪ Power-play success. The Canes scored twice – Victor Rask with a 5-on-3 goal, Skinner with another at the end – and have been much cleaner and efficient on zone entries this season with Teravainen and Aho added to the mix.
▪ Good goaltending. Eddie Lack is making his case for more work and a shot at being the No. 1 guy, although the Canes will need both Lack and Cam Ward to be consistent as a pair.
▪ Secondary scoring. Peters talked before the game about Rask’s line, with Skinner and Lee Stempniak, needing offensive support elsewhere in the lineup. Stalberg, a healthy scratch Tuesday against Edmonton, scored his first goal of the season on a breakaway and backhander.
This was a team win. A lot of battles were won along the boards, a lot of puck battles went the Canes’ way.
There were some mistakes. A turnover in the neutral zone led to the Flames’ first goal, by old Canes nemesis Troy Brouwer. Later, Calgary’s Johnny Gaudreau swept in alone to beat Lack, although Gaudreau can do that to a lot of goaltenders.
But the Canes kept their composure. As Skinner put it, it’s a process, a matter of “learning how to win and close out games.”
The Canes’ six-game road trip continues Saturday against the Philadelphia Flyers. The team will return to Raleigh after the game and practice at home before leaving for the sixth road game, Tuesday against the Detroit Red Wings.
The last time the Canes won in Calgary, Ron Francis scored twice for Carolina. That was December 2002. That streak is over.
So is another one. There are questions coaches and players never like to hear. High on that list: “What’s it going to take to get your first win?”
That question no longer applies.