The Carolina Hurricanes opened up their 2023 quest for the Stanley Cup at home in PNC Arena Monday night, beating the New York Islanders 2-1 in a hard-fought game highlighted by a pair of power play goals.
The Canes took the 1-0 series lead on the back of those special teams — as well as a great outing from Antti Raanta — and won their home opener of the playoffs for the fourth time in as many years (with home playoff games, that is) since 2019.
About last night:
Power play goals? In the playoffs? For the Hurricanes?
The major, major storyline out of the Canes’ playoff opener is that Carolina tallied not once, but twice with a man advantage, as both Sebastian Aho and Stefan Noesen put pucks past Ilya Sorokin to lead the Hurricanes to victory.
For the Canes, it’s been the power play that has plagued the playoff efforts for a few years now. In 14 playoff games in 2022, the Hurricanes went 7 for 54 (13%) on the power play and went 2 for 22 in the first four games of the first-round series against the Boston Bruins. In 2021, Carolina’s power play was 6 for 33 (18%) in 11 playoff games.
Over those two seasons combined, Carolina had just two games with multiple power play goals, and one of those came in a contest against Boston last year in which the Canes had nine power play opportunities.
But on Monday night — now in 2023, of course — Carolina’s power play went 2 for 4, scoring on its first two chances of the postseason. To put some more perspective on that, the Hurricanes didn’t have a single game in their final 20 games of the regular season in which they scored multiple goals on the power play.
It started about as well as it could have for the Canes’ man advantage Monday, as Aho scored his power play goal just 3:47 into the contest and just five seconds into Carolina’s first power play of the night. Aho won the faceoff, got to some open space on the circle, picked his spot and blasted home a firm pass from Brent Burns. Textbook.
Then in the second period, Noesen earned a power play with his fantastic net-front presence, and then scored on the man advantage with that same presence as he tipped home a shot in from Burns.
If the Hurricanes were formulating a recipe for success for a playoff run, getting better production out of the power play than they did in both the regular season and in postseasons past would have been issue No. 1 on that recipe.
Monday night, in their first taste of postseason action this year, the Hurricanes came to play on the power play.
Antti Raanta’s stellar start
While Carolina’s power play provided the offense, it was Raanta in the net who was the biggest individual star of the game in a fantastic outing to start his postseason and beat Sorokin across the ice.
Raanta stopped 25 of 26 shots faced in the game, with the one goal that came against him a really weird play and a really weird bounce that, while he definitely would have wanted to save, wasn’t exactly a normal hockey play.
Other than that, Raanta was magnificent. Raanta turned away all seven high-danger shots he faced and all three mid-danger shots against, and shrunk 1.81 expected goals against to one goal against.
Raanta was really good, especially at home, for the Hurricanes in last year’s playoffs, and it’s good to see him get started on the right foot once again.
Starting strong again
Since the Hurricanes reentered the playoff picture in 2019, they have yet to lose their home opener in the playoffs.
In 2019, it was a huge 5-0 win over the Washington Capitals to jump back into the series. In 2021, the Canes beat the Nashville Predators 5-2 to open the first round series. And in 2022, the Canes opened up PNC Arena play with a 5-1 win over the Boston Bruins.
And while the Hurricanes may not have scored five goals Monday night, it was still another year of riding that electric PNC Arena atmosphere to a series-opening win.
- The power play is obviously the story that jumps out with the known struggles, but my word was Carolina’s penalty kill magnificent. New York’s power play, which is admittedly bad, went 0 for 4 in the game, mustering just six scoring chances and less than a full expected goal over EIGHT minutes of 5-on-4 play.
- Stefan Noesen is great. He’s clearly not in over his head here in the playoffs, and his ability to do the hard work in front of net really makes him a valuable weapon for this Carolina team.
- Sebastian Aho dropping Sebastian Aho rocked.