TORONTO (AP) – Sebastian Aho scored a goal and set up another in the Carolina Hurricanes’ 3-2 win over the New York Rangers on Saturday in the NHL’s opening playoff game following a 4 1/2-month pause.
Jaccob Slavin scored 61 seconds in on Carolina’s first shot on goal in helping the Hurricanes gain the edge in the best-of-five preliminary round series. Game 2 is Monday.
Martin Necas sealed the win in a game the Hurricanes never trailed by one-timing a shot in off the skate of Rangers defenseman Marc Staal with 9:09 remaining.
The game was played without fans, and the NHL’s first ever played in August as the league attempts to complete a coronavirus pandemic-altered season and in a bid to award the Stanley Cup in late September or early October.
The Metropolitan Division rivals kicked off the expanded 24-team playoff format, which will feature as many as six games a day being played in the hub cities of Toronto and Edmonton, Alberta.
Petr Mrazek stopped 24 shots, and the sixth-seeded Hurricanes defeated the 11th-seeded Rangers for just the seventh time in 38 meetings going back to the 2010-11 season. The Hurricanes had also lost five straight to New York, including being swept in their four-game regular-season series.
Mika Zibanejad tipped in Ryan Lindgren’s shot for a power-play goal in the second period, and set up Staal’s short-handed goal, which cut the Hurricanes lead to 3-2 with 1:55 remaining.
Henrik Lundqvist stopped 34 shots for New York in starting for Igor Shesterkin, who was listed as unfit to play. For Lundqvist, it was just his sixth start since Jan. 2.
Lundqvist had little chance on any of the goals, two of which were deflected in, and with Slavin opening the scoring while he was allowed to walk in alone down the left wing. Accepting Teuvo Teravainen’s pass, Slavin lifted a shot to beat Lundqvist on the short side.
Though the Hurricanes scored on their initial shot on goal, the pace of the game was slow and at times sloppy.
The Rangers finished with just four shots on net in the opening period, with their first not coming until 7:06 in, when Artemi Panarin got off a weak shot from a bad angle.
The Hurricanes dominated much of the opening period, but showed their own rust. Forward Jordan Martinook whiffed on a centering pass from the left corner. And Warren Foegele misfired on a no-look drop pass to Jordan Staal on a two-on-one break.
Social-distancing rules went out the window very early. New York’s Ryan Strome and Carolina’s Justin Williams got into a fight in front of the Rangers bench less than three minutes in during a game in which each team was penalized nine times.
And Aho, upon tipping in Andrei Svechnikov’s centering pass in front, immediately turned and skated toward his teammate to hug him in the right circle.
The game presentation was Hurricanes-centric, with Carolina being the home team.
A Hurricanes highlight video was played on the video scoreboard before the teams took the ice, and featured the tag line, “An enormous force of nature.” Carolina took the ice with the announcer saying: “Welcome to the ice, your Carolina Hurricanes.”
Unlike a game in Raleigh, North Carolina, the U.S. anthem was sung first.
Though the piped-in music during stoppage was notably loud, the sound of a muffled crowd could be heard during play – but not loud enough to drown out players and coaches, whose voices echoed through the building.
Inside, the arena temperature was kept cold to preserve the consistency of the ice, with temperatures expected to reach the 80s.
Otherwise, with no fans allowed and only a handful of reporters inside the building, there wasn’t the usual lines outside the bathrooms or at the concession stands.
Outside the arena, Torontonians went mostly about their business, walking their dogs, making their way toward the nearby waterfront, or grocery shopping at a store across the street.
NOTES: Hurricanes All-Star defenseman Dougie Hamilton did not play due to an undisclosed injury. Coach Rod Brind’Amour on Friday said Hamilton is getting better, and hopes he’ll play at some point this series. … D Sami Vatanen made his Hurricanes debut, a little over five months after being acquired in a trade with New Jersey on Feb. 24. He missed Carolina’s seven games with a lower-body injury sustained while still with New Jersey. … Lundqvist started his 128th consecutive playoff game with the Rangers, the third-longest streak behind New Jersey’s Martin Brodeur, and Patrick Roy, while with Colorado.
Game 2 on Monday at noon EDT.
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