In front of a current-capacity crowd of 12,000 at PNC Arena, the Carolina Hurricanes defeated the Nashville Predators in Game 1 of the First Round of the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Jordan Staal netted two goals, and Alex Nedeljkovic made 22 saves in his first-career NHL postseason appearance and win.
"I thought everyone played really well all the way through the lineup. The guys were grinding," Staal said. "We were comfortable being in an uncomfortable situation. We kept at our game and kept doing what we want to do. It ended up paying off for us."
HIGHLIGHTS | PHOTO GALLERY | STATISTICS
The Difference, Part I
Jordan Staal has announced his presence in the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Staal, who assembled a Selke-worthy regular season, tallied two goals, one to put the Canes ahead for a stretch in the second period and them one to give the Canes the first two-goal lead of the entire playoffs.
"He was great. Again, that's just what he does," head coach Rod Brind'Amour said. "He plays hard every shift. Whatever the situation, you can count on him. That's why he's our leader."
After winning a faceoff in the neutral zone in the second period, Staal accepted a pass from Brett Pesce, outmuscled the defense of Mattias Ekholm and Roman Josi and then roofed a shot past Juuse Saros from a seemingly impossible angle to put the Canes up 2-1.
Video: NSH@CAR, Gm1: Staal roofs a wrist shot past Saros
"I pretty much lost the puck a little bit going between those two guys," Staal chuckled. "I put it on net. When it goes well is usually when you're not really thinking."
Maybe Staal wasn't really thinking either when he made a simple play in the slot in the third period to put the Canes up two. The scoring sequence began with his strong, first-man pressure on the forecheck, which forced a turnover behind the net. The puck ended up on Staal's stick in the slot, and he turned and fired a shot that squeaked through Saros' five-hole.
Video: NSH@CAR, Gm1: Staal slides a wrist shot into twine
"He's our captain for a reason. He leads by example on and off the ice," Nino Niederreiter said. "He knows what to expect and what to do, so we definitely want to follow his lead."
The Difference, Part II
I was in the Toronto bubble. Even in an empty building and artificial crowd noise filling out the ambiance, what transpired on the ice felt like playoff hockey. That is, as best as it could.
Nothing compares to playoff hockey - or really, any sport - as it's meant to be played: In front of thousands of passionate fans, emotions high and decibels soaring.
It had been two years since playoff hockey was last played in Raleigh - not as long as the wait from 2009 to 2019, by any stretch, but 2020 might as well have been a decade.
Rally towels waving. A packed lower bowl. A current-capacity crowd of 12,000 fans cheering and chanting and wooing and booing. Even the wave made an appearance in the third period.
There's nothing like it.
Video: NSH@CAR, Gm1: Hurricanes perform playoff Storm Surge
"That's hockey. For everybody, it's been a long time coming," Staal said. "There's no better feeling than playing a big game at home with the fans like that. The boys were ready to go. The fans were ready. It was a lot of fun. Playoff hockey, there's nothing better."
Nedeljkovic said the crowd of 12,000 felt double that. There was a raucous energy in the stands, and the Canes fed off of it on the ice.
"The crowd was phenomenal. I just can't say enough about that," Brind'Amour said. "That was nice. That was great for everybody who got to be here. That's how it should feel. We've been missing that for so long. I was happy that our fans got to see us play tonight and play well."
After scoring 20 goals in a bounce-back regular season, Niederreiter netted his first of the playoffs in the third period, a goal that ended up being the difference in the game. After Saros stoned Vincent Trocheck with a brilliant stop, Martin Necas worked to fish the puck out from behind the net and feed Niederreiter in the slot for the quick hitter.
Video: NSH@CAR, Gm1: Niederreiter beats Saros from the slot
Just as Staal had a regular season worthy of Selke consideration, so too did Nedeljkovic assemble a rookie campaign worthy of a Calder Trophy nomination. Nedeljkovic, who was thrust into action when Petr Mrazek missed two months with a right thumb injury, finished the season with a 15-5-3 record and three shutouts, and his 1.90 goals-against average, .932 save percentage were tops in the league among goaltenders who played at least 20 games.
"He's earned the right to start," Brind'Amour said. "Yeah, Petr is our guy, but he's had a lot of time off. Not that I was questioning whether or not he could do it, but we gave Ned an opportunity this year, and it felt like he earned the start."
So, the Canes turned to Nedeljkovic in Game 1, and the 25-year-old netminder, who led the Charlotte Checkers to a Calder Cup in 2019, stopped 22 of 24 shots in his NHL playoff debut.
Video: "[The fans] are such a benefit to us."
"Everybody wants to play and battle and get in there," he said. "Fortunately the coaching staff and the guys trusted me enough to give me the start tonight, but you have to take it one day at a time and whatever happens, happens."
Like the team in front of him, Nedeljkovic was solid and steady, especially in the third period when the Canes grabbed control of the game and didn't relent.
"I thought he did a great job of handling the puck when he needed to, making some big saves and slowing the game down when they were getting some zone time," Staal said. "He was just solid the whole way through."
Teravainen, one of three players on the roster who have won the Stanley Cup, scored the Canes' first goal of the postseason - and perhaps most importantly, it came not even 90 seconds after Filip Forsberg opened the scoring for Nashville in the first period.
While jockeying for positioning in the slot. Teravainen got his stick on Brett Pesce's point shot to deflect a bouncing puck in past Saros.
Video: NSH@CAR, Gm1: Teravainen deflects home Pesce's shot
The goal was Teravainen's 11th in the postseason since 2019, which leads the Canes over that span.
2: Brett Pesce tallied two primary assists, equaling his single-game postseason career high in helpers.
9: With the secondary assist on Teravainen's goal, Steven Lorentz is the ninth player in Canes history to record a point in his Stanley Cup Playoffs debut.
21:25: Jaccob Slavin was a game-time decision heading into Game 1, but the Canes' top defender logged 21:25 of ice time with one shot attempt, four hits and a plus-1 rating.
Quote of the Night
"It was awesome. It was incredible. It's one the best atmospheres I've ever played in front of, for sure." - Alex Nedeljkovic
Game 2 is set for Wednesday night in Raleigh, and the rink should be rocking once again.
The Carolina Hurricanes 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs are powered by DieHard. DieHard batteries are available at Advance Auto Parts and participating Carquest locations nationwide.