RALEIGH, N.C. – Even a nine-year NHL veteran like Antti Raanta couldn't help but feel anxious before his first playoff start.
“Obviously a little butterflies here and there,” Raanta said.
The good news for the Carolina Hurricanes was no one could tell, not with how the 32-year-old netminder patrolled the crease from post to post and stopped nearly everything.
Raanta had 35 saves while Seth Jarvis and Nino Niederreiter scored a pair of quick second-period goals, helping the Hurricanes beat the Boston Bruins 5-1 on Monday night in Game 1 of their first-round playoff series.
It was a promising start, both for Raanta and for a Hurricanes team that has been unable to get past the Bruins in two of the past three playoffs. In fact, Carolina never led in either of those first two series in 2019 and 2020.
This time, they're starting with a series lead.
“I think the longer the game went on, the better we got going,” Niederreiter said.
Teuvo Teravainen and Vincent Trocheck added third-period goals, which helped Carolina maintain control in this best-of-seven series opener. Andrei Svechnikov punctuated the win with an empty-net goal at 17:59.
Yet it started with Raanta, whose playoff experience consisted of five relief appearances before Monday. But he earned the nod with No. 1 goaltender Frederik Andersen still out with an injury suffered in the final weeks of the regular season, with coach Rod Brind'Amour saying simply: “That's why we brought him in.”
Raanta rewarded that belief, particularly as the Bruins buzzed around the net and carried the action with 12 shots in the opening 10 minutes.
“For me, I was just trying to focus on the things, how I've been able to be successful and what I've been doing to get to this point,” Raanta said. “It was working nicely, but it's only one game, one win.”
He also got help from Carolina's defensemen, too. In the first period, there was Brendan Smith reaching in with his stick to stop a loose rebound from crossing the goal line behind Raanta. And in the third, Ian Cole jumped in to stop a puck from squeaking between a diving Raanta and the left post.
That type of effort, along with a 3-for-3 showing by the league's No. 1 penalty kill, helped Carolina negate Boston's 36-25 shot advantage.
Taylor Hall scored for Boston early in the third to cut the deficit to 2-1, beating Raanta between the circles after a feed from Erik Haula from a battle behind the net. He almost tied it minutes later when he pinged the left post. But those turned out to be the only real mistakes for Raanta.
Linus Ullmark had 20 saves for Boston in his first playoff appearance. Both of the second-period goals came with heavy traffic at the crease, while Teravainen's goal came on a perfectly executed 2-on-1 rush with Trocheck.
Trocheck's goal came on a charge up the left side that ended with him bouncing the puck off the left side of Ullmark's helmet to make it 4-1.
“We're not going to put anything on Ullmark,” Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy said. “Whatever goalie's in there for us, you've got to fight to find pucks in this series. I thought it was the same at the other end early on.
“Raanta was fighting to find them, there were some rebounds there, we just didn't capitalize."
Jarvis, a 20-year-old rookie, ended the regular season on a seven-game point streak and now has his first playoff goal.
It came when Jaccob Slavin one-timed the puck into traffic. Jarvis extended his stick to tip the puck, sending it bouncing to the ice and slipping past Ullmark at 16:28.
“I just don't know how much (experience) matters at this time of year sometimes,” Brind'Amour said. “The young guy looked fine, certainly didn't look out of place. And Raants looked great. So check the box there, for sure.”
History favors the Bruins after they swept the Hurricanes in the Eastern Conference Finals in 2019 followed by a five-game win in the first round of the Toronto bubble a year later.
This year, the Metropolitan Division champion Hurricanes have won all four meetings by a combined score of 21-2.
NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman was in attendance, laughing and offering a wave while hearing hearty boos while being shown on the videoboard during a second-period stoppage.
Retired Hurricanes captain Justin Williams cranked the pregame storm-warning siren for the team to take the ice, followed by Kim and Penn Holderness – a Raleigh family who recently won CBS’ “The Amazing Race” reality competition show – for the second period.
North Carolina men’s basketball coach Hubert Davis was the siren sounder for the third. The first-year coach led the Tar Heels to the NCAA championship game and heard plenty of cheers in the arena the Hurricanes share with UNC rival North Carolina State.
Game 2 is Wednesday in Raleigh.
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