Canes’ Kotkaniemi wants better play from his team, his line

December 4, 2023; Winnipeg, Manitoba, CAN; Carolina Hurricanes forward Jesperi Kotkaniemi (82) skates into the Winnipeg Jets zone during the first period at the Canada Life Centre. Mandatory credit: Terrence Lee-USA TODAY Sports



Jesperi Kotkaniemi says the Carolina Hurricanes can play better.

Kotkaniemi also says the Kotkaniemi line can play better.

That was the center’s takeaway from Game 1 of the Stanley Cup playoff series against the New York Islanders. The Canes emerged with a 3-1 victory in the play-off opener on Saturday, but only after a third period in which Stefan Noesen and Martin Necas scored goals.

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“Definitely not our best,” Kotkaniemi said Sunday after a team practice at PNC Arena. “I feel like in the play-offs, even if you have a bad day, you have to somehow manage to win the game. And that’s what we did.

“Everyone here knows we have to be much better than that. But we start with a win, so that was big.”

Kotkaniemi’s line, featuring wingers Teuvo Teravainen and Necas, was on the ice in the first period as the Isles scored their goal for a 1-1 tie that lasted until the third. Kyle MacLean, positioned in front of Canes goalie Frederik Andersen, punched in the puck.

“We were pretty much the same as everyone else. We didn’t have much to do there,” Kotkaniemi said of his story. “We spent a lot of time in the neutral zone, going back and forth all the time.”

Kotkaniemi and the Canes will aim for more consistent, efficient play and puck management in Game 2 on Monday.

“Bring it to them a little bit more and get a little more O-zone time,” he said.

The Islanders will do everything they can to avoid an 0-2 start in the best-of-seven series. If they had made a better jump here or there, or if Andersen hadn’t made some super stops, they could have won Game 1.

With some veterans on the team, the Isles should be able to put the Game 1 loss behind them and ramp up their intensity level for Game 2. At least that’s the plan.

“That’s playoff hockey,” Kotkaniemi said. “Whether you win or lose, you have to be able to reset after each match and be ready for the next one. Every service is important. Every game is important. You always have to be ready.”

It’s been an inconsistent season at times for Kotkaniemi, who was healthy scratched a few times by Canes coach Rod Brind’Amour late in the regular season. He finished with 12 goals and 27 points in 79 games, but did have a goal and assist in the regular season finale against the Columbus Blue Jackets, his first multi-point game since early November.

Carolina center Evgeny Kuznetsov (92) appears to shoot during the first period of the Hurricanes game against the Islanders in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs at the PNC Arena in Raleigh, NC, Saturday, April 20, 2024. Ethan Hyman [email protected]

Brind’Amour had “KK” in the middle of the second line – and Evgeny Kuznetsov in the middle of the fourth line – when the playoffs started.

“It was definitely a difficult year and not the year I wanted,” Kotkaniemi said. “But it’s playoff time and it’s always a different story in the playoffs.

“I will try to end this year on a good note by being the last team left.”

That means the team that holds the Stanley Cup. For Kotkaniemi and the Canes, that would be a very happy ending.

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In more than 40 years at The N&O, Chip Alexander has covered the NC State, UNC, Duke and East Carolina beats, and is now in his 15th season on the Carolina Hurricanes beat. Alexander, who has won numerous writing awards at the state and national level, covered the Hurricanes’ move to North Carolina in 1997 and was part of The N&O’s coverage of the Canes’ 2006 Stanley Cup run.