Darling returns to Hurricanes as three-headed monster remains in net

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As the Carolina Hurricanes hold their spot atop the Metropolitan Division they’re about to welcome back a big piece in goal.

Following a conditioning stint in AHL Charlotte, Scott Darling has been recalled one day before their game against the San Jose Sharks.

Darling made one start in the AHL, stopping 25 of 26 shots during a 3-1 victory on Wednesday. It was his first start in goal since suffering a lower-body injury during the team’s final preseason game on Sept. 30. Considering he hasn’t played in nearly a month, the stint in Charlotte was part of the recovery process, allowing him to face shots again and mentally prepare himself for an NHL return.

“It’s just encouraging that he got through it and felt good about his game, team felt good about it,” said head coach Rod Brind’Amour on Thursday. “He can put that all behind him now, get back up here and get ready to go.”

Brind’Amour didn’t say when Darling would start, leaving it at “soon.”

The Hurricanes were concerned but not overly desperate for coverage in goal considering they brought in Petr Mrazek over the summer and picked up Curtis McElhinney on waivers from the Toronto Maple Leafs a day before Darling was placed on injured reserve. Carolina sits 5-3-1 in the division and the pair of goalies have combined for a .916 even strength save percentage through nine games.

No one was placed on waivers by the Hurricanes on Thursday meaning they will stick with three goaltenders on the roster for time being. It’s not a long-term decision considering how well the team’s been playing, but at some point a move will have to be made one way or another. For now, Brind’Amour is leaving that up to general manager Don Waddell.

It’s going to be an important season for Darling. His first year in Carolina was forgettable as he posted an .897 ESSV% in 43 appearances in 2017-18. An injury to start this season wasn’t ideal, but being eased into a situation to grab back the reins of the No. 1 job could be the plan to get his game back.

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.