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About Last Night: Welcome Back, Hockey

In their first meaningful game of hockey in over four months, the Carolina Hurricanes beat the New York Rangers 3-2 Saturday to take a 1-0 lead in the best-of-five qualifying round.

New York Rangers v Carolina Hurricanes Photo by Andre Ringuette/Getty Images

Hockey made its long-awaited return Saturday afternoon in Scotiabank Arena in Toronto, as the NHL’s season resumed with the newly formed qualifying rounds leading into the playoffs.

The sixth-seeded Carolina Hurricanes faced off with the 11th-seeded New York Rangers to kick things off, with the Canes winning 3-2 to take a 1-0 series lead in the best-of-five qualifying round.

This is playoff hockey, with or without the fans

Any questions about what the intensity of playoff hockey without fans would look like coming into the game were put to rest in mere minutes early Saturday afternoon in Toronto. Though the building was empty of the roaring fans that normally accompany playoff hockey, the teams on the ice came out of the gate with a typical fervor of any playoff series.

From the time the puck dropped just after noon, the Canes and the Rangers were playing aggressive, hitting hard and fighting for every inch. It took just over two minutes of action for the first huge hit of these unusual playoffs, as Brady Skjei laid into his former teammate Jesper Fast.

Just a few seconds later came the first fight of the playoffs, as Canes’ veteran Justin Williams and New York’s Ryan Strome dropped the gloves not even three minutes into the game.

It didn’t stop there, as both teams played a physical contest that led to 42 combined penalty minutes. It was unquestionably playoff hockey, and the intensity on the ice made it easy to forget that there weren’t fans in the building.

Fantastic work by a way-to-busy penalty kill

The Canes really struggled against the Rangers during the regular season, losing all four meetings. A big part of the struggles for Carolina came when the Canes went down a man, as New York scored five power-play goals on 15 chances during those four regular season matchups.

The good news for the Hurricanes Saturday was that the penalty kill did much, much better. In fact, it was absolutely fantastic from start to finish. The Rangers went 0 for 7 on power-play opportunities, failing to even get a shot on net during the first few power plays of the night.

Carolina did a great job of limiting any New York opportunities on the power play, with Jaccob Slavin, Joel Edmundson, Jordan Staal and Brady Skjei all putting in more than five hard shorthanded minutes in the game.

While the penalty kill was a shining bright spot in the game, the frequency in which it was needed was a bit concerning. Giving up seven power plays and 21 penalty minutes isn’t going to lead to sustainable success, regardless of how good the penalty kill is.

The Canes will need to clean that up some, though to Carolina’s credit the Rangers were whistled the same amount of times so some of it can be credited to the way the game was officiated. Also to the Canes’ credit, Carolina didn’t commit a penalty in the final period of the game after giving up seven power plays over the first two periods.

The old was reliable

So “old” might not be the best wording here, but the Canes got good contributions from the usual suspects after a long layoff Saturday. With four months off it was hard to know where teams and players would pick up, but the Hurricanes got some big contributions from the guys that always contribute.

The first Canes goal came off a beautiful pass from Teuvo Teravainen, something that has been written over and over again during Teravainen’s time with the Canes. Sebastian Aho also picked up an assist as Slavin netted a strong finish past Henrik Lundqvist to make it 1-0 just over a minute into the game.

It was Aho’s turn to find the scoresheet himself for the Canes’ second goal, a solid redirection for Aho off a feed from Andrei Svechnikov. Aho, who led the Canes with 38 goals in the regular season, scored the sixth playoff goal of his young career with the redirect.

Slavin picked up an assist on the Canes’ third goal, as he, Teravainen, Aho and Svechnikov combined for six points in the game. You need your best, most reliable players to produce to win playoff games, and that is exactly what the Hurricanes got in game one against the Rangers.

And the new was good too

While the likes of Aho, Svechnikov, Teravainen and Slavin played a major role in Carolina’s victory Saturday, some of the newer Hurricanes also played really well to help lead the Canes to a series-opening win.

Skjei was engaged from early on against the team he played most of the 2019-20 season with, delivering the big hit on Fast and also skating really well. The Canes defense was really stellar throughout the game, and Skjei was a big part of that.

Another new defenseman who played a really strong game was Sami Vatanen, who was playing his very first game as a Cane. Like Skjei, Vatanen was strong defensively, but he also did a really great job of facilitating one of the Canes’ power-play units. He had the primary assist on Aho’s power-play goal, leading a unit that was active and had great movement every time it was on the ice.

New center Vincent Trochek also had a few big moments. He positioned himself perfectly in front of net to create traffic for Martin Necas’ third-period goal, which bounced off a New York defenseman’s skate past Lundqvist. If not for the deflection off the skate.

Trochek also made a really important play in the final moments of the game, winning an important faceoff in the Canes’ defensive zone with two seconds left in the game and a one-goal lead.

Wrapping Up

It was great to have Hurricanes hockey back, and things went quite well in the return for Carolina. A 1-0 series lead in a five-game series is massively important, and the Hurricanes did what they needed to do to ensure they got off on the right foot.

The Canes and Rangers will play game two on Monday, with Carolina looking to take a stranglehold on the series.