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Flames hope duo keeps meshing against Hurricanes

CALGARY, Alberta -- Sean Monahan and Johnny Gaudreau both signed monster contracts in the offseason with the expectation they would lead the Calgary Flames to a prosperous future.

The linemates got off to a slow start and right away tongues started to wag in Calgary after three losses.

But what happened to end the fourth game brought hope to Flames fans and those holding the purse strings that things are turning for the better. Gaudreau set up Monahan with the winning goal in a 4-3 overtime win over the Buffalo Sabres on Tuesday.

It was Monahan's second goal of the season to go with no assists. Gaudreau, who finished in the top 10 in league scoring in 2015-16, has yet to score but has two assists. Hardly a blazing start for two players who will make in excess of $6 million each this winter.

"Hopefully, it's the beginning of them getting their game going again," first-year head coach Glen Gulutzan said.

"I know both young guys have been putting pressure on themselves and I can see it. It just takes one of those things to turn it when you're the quality of player of both of those gentlemen. We underestimate confidence and that gives you a little confidence."

The Flames host the Carolina Hurricanes on Thursday night in what almost became a battle of winless teams. The Hurricanes started the season 0-1-2 and arrive in Calgary after dropping a second straight overtime decision on their four-game western Canada swing on Tuesday with a 3-2 loss to the Edmonton Oilers.

The big story in Calgary during the summer was the restricted free agency of both Monahan and Gaudreau, who completed entry-level contracts.

Gaudreau and the Flames struggled to come to terms and the Salem, N.J., native didn't sign until a day before the regular season began. He got a six-year deal for $40.5 million. Monahan agreed to a seven-year, $44.625 million contract in August.

The question to be answered now: Was Monahan's game-winner the ice-breaker for the Flames' two stars?

"I think so," Monahan said. "When you win it brings confidence. As a group, it's home ice and the way that we battled back and found a way to win is big for our team."

It brought Gulutzan, who was hired to replace fired Bob Hartley in June, his first NHL win as a head coach. But he cared more about his stars getting going than his accomplishment.

"Everybody needed that goal and when I say everybody, probably the fans, the coaches and Mony himself," Gulutzan said.

"I was more excited for the guys. You get to be around your team for a month here and we've got a great group and they're trying. They're really putting it out there. They're squeezing a little bit. To get that off them, I think, will move us forward. So we needed it and they needed it."

Carolina comes into Thursday feeling no such optimism after falling behind 3-0 on Tuesday in Edmonton and losing 3-2 for their third straight one-goal loss.

"You don't want top start a losing streak and you've got to put an end to it," Hurricanes coach Bill Peters told the Raleigh News & Observer. "You've got to put the brakes on that and that's what we have to do Thursday in Calgary."

One positive for Carolina has been the play of well-traveled veteran right winger Lee Stempniak, who leads the Hurricanes in the early going with five points. He scored twice within 56 seconds in the third period to make it a one-goal game in Edmonton, but the rally ended there.

The Hurricanes signed the 33-year-old in the offseason for two years, making Carolina the 10th stop in his 12-year career.

"Lee Stempniak's an underrated guy," Peters said. "He's got a heavy stick, he's strong on the puck. He's a very intelligent player."