The intensity of the game was high throughout its entirety and a few key timed goals by Jaccob Slavin, Sebastian Aho and Martin Necas along with a perfect 7-for-7 penalty kill (!) saw the Canes through.
After the game, Aho, Slavin and Justin Williams spoke to the media over Zoom.
On the fight with Ryan Strome: I don’t pre-plan any fights. He asked me to fight and I said ‘Okay.’ There was a lot of emotion at the start of the game which was awesome to see because there was nobody physically there watching us. You get on the ice and compete. There was a lot of emotion and adrenaline to start that game.
On the atmosphere: It certainly [felt like a playoff atmosphere]. Aren’t we the home team though. I didn’t really care for when their goal song came on when they scored. I didn’t care for that, but other than that, we had our music like a home game. Our music for warmup. As I said, it was a lot of emotion and it was good to see that we responded.
On the level of energy to start the game: I think there was just a lot of pent up energy from a lot of players. Months without playing a meaningful hockey game is tough for professional athletes. We came out and both teams had a lot of intensity. We won the first game, but that only means we’re up 1-0. That’s totally it. We’ll pick up and we’ll move on and we’ll try to make it two. I thought the energy was fun and even with how much we love the fans, there was a lot of self-motivated intensity.
On getting back into their style: Our style of play, we know how we have to play, but sometimes you just need a little reminder. That’s certainly what that first exhibition game was. It was a ‘Hey, hey. You can’t play like that. Play the way the Hurricanes play.’ That’s relentless pressure. We let off for a little bit today and they were able to come back a little, but for the most part we maintained control and used our feet real well. We didn’t get too fancy.
On having experience and starting right: Skjei with the big hit early to start it got everyone involved early, even on the bench. With the experience we got from last year, the young guys in the locker room, we knew what to do. You just had to take it one shift at a time. There were a lot of penalty kills and power plays that game so guys had to get involved in other ways and we did a great job of that today.
On scoring early: It was big, obviously. Previous seasons against [Lundqvist] we haven’t had the most success, so just to be able to put one behind him early got us going with the same energy, same adrenaline that we got from Skjei’s hit and we just carried that through the first period. I felt we played really well all game. It was big and definitely a confidence booster for the whole team.
On new guys fitting into the defensive system: Once guys got back into Raleigh, we had a super tight-knit group through the couple weeks of training camp. Sami [Vatanen] and Brady [Skjei] fit right in and obviously we have a very deep D-corp and a lot of guys can play in a lot of situations. That helps out in intermingling guys out on the ice. They’re all solid players, they all skate well, they can all make those plays, so it’s easy when you have that caliber of players when new guys come in.
On aspects to improve for the next game: We can’t take that many penalties and go deep into the playoffs. Our penalty kill did a good job today, but it just kills the momentum of the game and our 5-on-5 game is where we succeed really well, so we have to stay out of the box. We played really well, but moving forward we can’t take that many penalties.
On the opening few minutes having Skjei’s hit, Slavin’s goal and Williams’ fight: Those three things were huge for us. Starting with Skjei’s hit, that set the tone for us and then it was a nice shot by Slavin. It was a huge goal for us. And with Willy stepping up, those things are really big in the playoffs.
On what made the penalty kill successful: [The Rangers] have some good players out there, so we had to be on our toes. I think the reason we had success today, was because we got to those second and third chances. We won those battles and those were big for us.
On the atmosphere and lack of crowd: You notice it when you’re on the bench. There’s no crowd and no noise. It’s a little bit different, but for me at least, when I’m on the ice I don’t pay attention to that stuff. I don’t really see a difference, but on the bench you can tell. It’s no issue. You could see in the game it was intense. Felt like a playoff game.
On ramping up for the game: We had talked about it a bunch of times with the team and coaches on how we’ll ramp up the intensity. Being focused the whole 60 minutes with no fans. Having a lot of time off since the last game, it’s been a little different, but I felt we did a pretty good job with it.
On Rangers going with Lundqvist over Shesterkin: To be honest, I had no idea who was starting for them. On the first faceoff, I saw Lundqvist there. I didn’t know who was starting before.