RALEIGH, N.C. -- As the calendar turned to December, Carolina coach Kirk Muller continued to deliver the same message he has preached since the start of the season. There was only one problem: The results were just so-so.
But after rallying to beat the San Jose Sharks 5-3 on Friday night, the Hurricanes (13-12-5) have something tangible to show for their effort: their first three-game winning streak of the season.
The Hurricanes trailed 2-0 midway through the game before storming back during an action-packed third period. Rookie forward Elias Lindholm scored on a deflection with six minutes left in regulation to break a 3-3 tie.
Carolina has found some offensive touch during its winning streak, outscoring opponents 14-6 during the three games.
At 10-12-5 to begin the week, the Hurricanes didn't have the start they wanted, but Muller saw signs that the team was pointed in the right direction.
"We felt we were going according to plan really," Muller said. "We said we wanted to get better defending and better without the puck if we want to compete and battle for the playoffs. When you do that, you've got to break some habits and patterns. We weren't scoring much, and the results weren't there. But now they're getting things put together. Now the results are happening, and it's all about playing the right way."
The Hurricanes felt they were doing things right in the first period, despite trailing 2-0 at intermission.
The Sharks opened the scoring at 7:09 after Tommy Wingels set a screen in front of Hurricanes goaltender Cam Ward and redirected Jason Demers' shot into the net. San Jose made it 2-0 at 16:31 when Marc-Edouard Vlasic's wrist shot from the left-wing boards slipped between Ward's pads.
But defenseman Jay Harrison got the Hurricanes on the board at 11:36 of the second period, sending a wrister that hit the end boards and caromed off the skate of Sharks goaltender Alex Stalock's before sliding into the net. Carolina tied the game at 4:54 of the third period on Riley Nash's redirection in the slot, and suddenly it was a new game.
"We felt good about the way we were playing," said Nash, who also scored in Carolina's 5-2 road win against the Nashville Predators on Thursday. 'There were two [San Jose shots] from the point that were lucky. Overall, we were getting chances and getting the puck deep. It just wasn't going our way early but we stuck to it."
Less than two minutes later, Jordan Staal gave the Hurricanes a 3-2 lead when he poked in a loose puck at the right post that Stalock initially thought he had covered with his glove. San Jose defenseman Justin Braun made it 3-3 at 9:35, beating Ward with a shot from just inside the blue line.
That's when Lindholm took center stage. After assisting on the two previous goals, Lindholm, the fifth player taken in the 2013 NHL Draft, got position in the slot and deflected Andrej Sekera's shot past Stalock at 14:00 to give Carolina a 4-3 lead. It was the Swedish rookie's first multi-point game.
"That's the player we drafted," Muller said. "It's a tough league and you have to get adjusted. You're seeing signs of what kind of player he is. He's smart, he's got hockey sense, he can make plays in small areas. That was a lot of fun to see him get results."
After a six-game stint with the Charlotte Checkers of the American Hockey League during November, Lindholm is beginning to find his game.
"It's the best league in the world, and it takes some time to get adjusted to this," Lindholm said. "I think I have played all right. Maybe the time in Charlotte was good for me, but it feels better and better for me every game. I try to play my game and build some more confidence."
Eric Staal's empty-netter sealed the victory, which moved the Hurricanes into second place in the Metropolitan Division. Carolina has 31 points, one more than the New York Rangers and Washington Capitals; however, both teams have games in hand on the Hurricanes.
The loss didn't sit well with Sharks coach Todd McLellan. After losing 5-1 to the Pittsburgh Penguins on Thursday night, San Jose (19-5-5) has dropped two in a row after a six-game winning streak. The Sharks finish a four-game road trip against the Minnesota Wild on Sunday.
"[There are] some concerns about the group right now," McLellan said. "I don't know if we're playing with the energy we played with earlier in the year, and I don't know why that is.
"We don't have the jump, we're not using our heads very well, and we make some uncharacteristic mistakes. We need to regroup, to get some rest. I hope that is the case."
The Hurricanes, on the other hand, have fewer concerns than they did even a week ago. Staying the course has paid off.
"We had talked about bringing our game consistently and we haven't done that this year," said Jordan Staal, who has three goals in the past five games. "Three big games in a row really help this team build and keep it moving forward."
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