The Carolina Hurricanes spent the first period swarming the puck and closing just about any fleeting bit of open ice the New Jersey Devils could find.
It was a dominating start to their second-round playoff series – and the blueprint the Hurricanes know they must follow going forward.
The Hurricanes got goals from Brett Pesce and Seth Jarvis alongside a suffocating defensive performance in the first, allowing Carolina to jump quickly on New Jersey en route to a 5-1 win Wednesday night to start this best-of-seven series.
Jesperi Kotkaniemi, Brady Skeji and Jesper Fast also scored for the Hurricanes, who took the Devils completely out of any type of first-period flow while surrendering a single shot on goal. Meanwhile, Pesce scored on a low-flying shot through traffic to beat Akira Schmid and Jarvis blew past Ryan Graves near the blue line to beat Schmid over his glove for a 2-0 lead.
By the time Kotkaniemi followed early in the second, Schmid was headed for the bench.
“That’s a superskilled team that is fast and comes in waves,” said Carolina forward Jordan Martinook, who found Kotkaniemi for his point-blank put away. " If you can stay on top of them and kind of limit their space, that’s what we’re going to have to do.
“Yeah, it’s hard. It’s a lot of work, but we’re willing to put it in.”
Game 2 is Friday night in Raleigh.
Nathan Bastian scored for the Devils, who played this one without trade-acquisition Timo Meier following his huge hit from New York Rangers forward Jacob Trouba during Monday’s Game 7 win. Bastian’s goal came when he got loose coming into the zone to beat Frederik Andersen at 5:02 of the second period, but the Devils got not closer.
“They backed us into a corner right away,” Devils coach Lindy Ruff said.
The Hurricanes pushed into the second round after beating the New York Islanders, with the Game 6 clincher coming Friday night. That gave a team with an injury-hit group of forwards a few extra days to regroup, and Carolina jumped right back in to establish its style and play confidently from in front with the backing of a loud home-ice crowd.
“We played fast, physical,” Skjei said. “We got some pucks to the net. It was just the way we wanted to start, that first period.”
The Devils are in the playoffs for the first time since 2018 and won a series for the first time in 11 years. But they had less than 48 hours following the Game 7 clincher against the Rangers to get ready for Wednesday’s puck drop. Ruff had said Tuesday he liked jumping right into a series to keep rolling.
Instead, the Devils’ lone shot in the first period was a wrister from Bastian that looked more like an entry pass from the blue line before dribbling its way to Andersen at 12:15.
New Jersey eventually began to establish its style in the second, but by then, the Devils were fighting uphill.
“We didn’t get to our game,” forward Jesper Bratt said. “We were a little sloppy on the puck. We were a little slow getting to pucks and supporting each other. When you’re not supporting each other against a team like this … you’re not going to create that much.”
The Hurricanes went back to Andersen in net over Antti Raanta after Andersen got his first start of the playoffs in the Game 6 clincher against the New York Islanders. He finished with 18 saves.
The 22-year-old Schmid had been terrific in the first round, posting a 1.38 goals-against average and a .951 save percentage while posting two shutouts. But he surrendered three goals on 11 shots.
“It had nothing to do with our goalie,” Ruff said. “I could’ve taken multiple players out.”
Vitek Vanecek had 10 saves on 11 shots in relief, though he survived one second-period power play that saw Carolina’s Sebastian Aho hit the left pos, then Jarvis follow with his own ping moments later.
This is a matchup of the top teams in the Metropolitan Division, with the Hurricanes winning their final regular-season game to edge the Devils by a point (113-112) in the standings. And with Boston gone in a first-round stunner after a record-setting regular season, the winner of this series will have home-ice advantage for the rest of the playoffs.
Fast’s goal was an empty-netter. … Devils star Jack Hughes managed two shots while seeing plenty of defensive attention from Carolina captain Jordan Staal. … New Jersey lost Games 1 and 2 of the Rangers series by the same score at home before rallying to win. … Carolina forward Jack Drury returned after being knocked from the first-round series against the Islanders on a jarring hit into the boards from Ryan Pulock in Game 4. … Jesper Boqvist was back in the lineup with Meier out after playing five games against the Rangers.