For a moment, although maybe not for long, the pressure is off. One win isn't enough for the Carolina Hurricanes. The team needs to start stringing them together. A bunch of them. And fast.
One win felt good Monday night though, especially after a disheartening Saturday night loss that saw the Hurricanes blow a two-goal third-period lead. Not only did they outplay the sluggish Dallas Stars on Monday in a 5-1 win, you could almost see the relaxation flow.
“We've been in a lot of one-goal games this year,” Hurricanes goalie Scott Darling said. “It was nice to see five up there. We were all able to take a little bit of a breath.”
Sebastian Aho got his first of the season. The epically struggling power play finally broke through for only its third goal of the season at home. Darling, who followed up a sterling Cam Ward start on Friday with a less-than-stellar one of his own Saturday, answered the call. The Hurricanes extended a 3-1 lead instead of merely clinging to it. And Teuvo Teravainen doubled his season goal total with his first career hat trick.
So that's good enough for one night, but one night isn't good enough. This has to be the beginning of something, or it's going to turn out to be the end of something.
This would be a four-game winning streak if the Hurricanes had been able to hold on against the Blackhawks, but as things stand the Hurricanes have followed their 1-4-2 skid with a 3-0-1 streak. That's good, but they need to push, press on, continue from here. And not every opponent is going to be as cooperative as the Stars, who gifted the Hurricanes at least two of their goals.
But that's how it goes sometimes. Dallas defenseman John Klingberg deflected Teravainen's otherwise harmless shot past Ben Bishop perfectly for Teravainen's second of the night; a second-period Dallas shot hit an unaware and completely screened Darling right in the blocker. That's a two-goal swing right there, pivotal considering Jeff Skinner scored Carolina's final goal with 2.6 seconds to play.
The question, then, is whether Aho can build on this. (He should; despite the lack of goals, he has been playing well.) Whether the power play – still too perimeter-oriented, but with Brock McGinn and Elias Lindholm both commendably in the crease Monday – can build on this. Whether Teravainen, who doesn't think of himself as a goal-scorer, can keep scoring goals anyway. And whether Darling can be this good on nights where he's asked to do more.
Of all of that, the power play and Darling's play stand out as most critical. This inept power play alone would be enough to keep the Hurricanes out of the playoffs, aside from everything else. It's not supposed to be this difficult, especially at home, where they improved, so to speak, to 3-for-28 with Monday's goal.
The Hurricanes didn't do themselves any favors Monday night even without the puck, with first Elias Lindholm and then Justin Williams taking silly penalties to curtail Carolina power plays prematurely – the latter leading directly to the Dallas goal that tied the score 1-1. That left the Hurricanes with a total man-advantage time of 3 minutes, 52 seconds from three power plays, a wide margin short of full value. On their fourth, Lindholm's screen paved the way for Teravainen's shot – from the outside, at the top of the left circle – to get past Bishop and the Hurricanes were on their way.
The Hurricanes' mix of players doesn't lend itself to the power play, without enough forwards capable of making quick, accurate passes in tight quarters – even though there are supposed to be several – and only one big shot from the point: Faulk, who occasionally struggles handling the puck at the line. For these outside shots to work, they're going to need traffic in front, from Lindholm and McGinn and Justin Williams and Jordan Staal. That continues to be the key.
As for Darling, this was perhaps an even bigger game for him. His Hurricanes career was off to a rough start, to the point where there was actually grumbling among fans that Ward should have played Saturday. He desperately needed a statement start to maintain his claim to the No. 1 role.
This wasn't his most taxing outing, but he made the saves he needed to make, even if the best save of the night came from Brett Pesce, diving to deny Tyler Seguin an open net in the third. Darling can still be a little scrambly on rebounds, which is how the Stars got their first when the Hurricanes were unable to clear while short-handed, but he stopped 25 shots and has allowed one goal in three of his past four starts.
“It was a tough first three, four, five games for me, adjusting to a new team, new system, new life,” Darling said. “The last couple games, I'm starting to feel really good.”
Games at the Islanders and Buffalo are up next, the kind of games that the Hurricanes need to win, even on the road, to keep up with the competition. This was a feel-good night for a team that has been feeling the pressure, but this is no time to relax now.
Sports columnist Luke DeCock: 919-829-8947, firstname.lastname@example.org, @LukeDeCock