RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) Antti Raanta felt ready when he got the start in net. And the Carolina Hurricanes played the kind of defense in front of him - especially on the penalty kill - that secured an early lead in their first-round playoff series with the New York Islanders.
Sebastian Aho and Stefan Noesen scored power-play goals, while Raanta finished with 25 saves in Monday night's 2-1 win to open the best-of-7 series.
Raanta got the nod over Frederik Andersen after playing in a rotation this season, and he came up with several key stops when the Islanders generated pressure.
“A couple of shots I couldn’t see, but our guys were blocking those,” Raanta said, adding; “I think most of the time, we played really well in front of the net. So I just needed to make the first save and our guys were helping me.”
Indeed, Carolina entered with the league’s No. 2 penalty kill and denied all four of New York’s power plays, the last with 5 minutes left. The Hurricanes didn't surrender a shot on Raanta on that one, then withstood the final roughly 90 seconds after the Islanders had pulled Ilya Sorokin for the extra attacker.
“The best penalty killer is always your goalie, No. 1,” Carolina coach Rod Brind'Amour said. “He made a couple of real good stops. The guys in there blocked some shots. They did what they had to do.”
The Hurricanes are in the playoffs for the fifth straight season, the first such run since the former Hartford Whalers relocated to North Carolina in 1997. And they clinched a division title for the third straight season.
Ryan Pulock beat Raanta early in the second period for the Islanders, who had reached the Stanley Cup semifinals in 2020 and 2021 before missing the playoffs last season. His score came moments after Carolina had taken a 2-0 lead, but ended up being the last time either team found the net to set up a third-period grind to the horn.
“I think we’ve just got to find a better way to be a little more clean, execute some passes,” Islanders defenseman Noah Dobson said. “But there’s not much space out there. it’s going to be like that all series. We’re just going to have to find a way to grind through it.”
Sorokin finished with 35 saves for the Islanders, including a big one midway through the third when he slid across the crease in time to stop Seth Jarvis near the post after a perfect pass from Teuvo Teravainen.
Carolina's power play was a problem in last year's playoffs, and the Hurricanes had come up empty on 28 of 31 chances dating to March 26. But they posted multiple power-play goals for the first time since scoring four against Tampa Bay on March 5.
Aho scored first after winning a faceoff, then drifting to the right circle to one-time a pass from Brent Burns just 5 seconds into the man advantage. Noesen’s tip on Burns’ shot from up top was the winner at 2:27 of the second period.
“The puck didn't stay on our sticks too long,” said Martin Necas, who also assisted on both goals. “We made good plays. It's all about confidence.”
Islanders star Mathew Barzal returned from a lower-body injury that cost him 23 straight games. He hadn't played since Feb. 18, but returned to the top line alongside captain Anders Lee and midseason trade acquisition Bo Horvat.
Barzal saw more than 21 minutes of ice time and tallied two shots.
“It's been a long time since he's been out and come into a playoff game with that kind of atmosphere,” Islanders coach Lane Lambert said. "Certainly it’s not an easy thing to do, and I thought he showed well."
Carolina star Andrei Svechnikov took part in the pregame build-up despite being sidelined by a season-ending knee injury that could present a significant obstacle to Carolina's push to win the Cup.
The forward sounded the pregame “storm warning” siren for the team to take the ice from the locker room. Moments earlier, he got a rousing cheer and ovation from towel-waving fans, with Svechnikov waving and patting his heart in acknowledgement.
Duke football coach Mike Elko and North Carolina State men's basketball player D.J. Burns Jr. - a fan-favorite big man with the program that shares the arena with the Hurricanes - sounded the siren for the following intermissions.
Game 2 is Wednesday in Raleigh before the series shifts to New York.
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