Hurricanes get quick boost from addition of Evgeny Kuznetsov to start NHL playoffs

RALEIGH, NC – Evgeny Kuznetsov wasted no time in making a postseason impact for the Carolina Hurricanes. It’s a promising sign for what lies ahead in the NHL playoffs.

The acquisition at the trade deadline strengthened a deep Carolina team trying to take the final step in a multi-year run as a Stanley Cup contender. But as the Hurricanes look to take a 2-0 lead in their first-round series against the New York Islanders on Monday, what was seen at the time as a low-risk move has already yielded the first payday of the postseason with Kuznetsov’s talent and experience as a Cup winner in Washington.

“He’s a proven winner,” coach Rod Brind’Amour said. “He did it in the playoffs and he has a Stanley Cup ring to prove it. … He’s an experienced guy, there’s certainly no panic in his game. In this kind of environment, I think that’s what makes it special.”

Game 2 of that series comes Monday night, part of a schedule that includes the start of two Western Conference playoff series.

Kuznetsov led the Capitals with 32 points (12 goals) in title contention in 2018 and was one of the team’s core players for a decade. But he had a tumultuous end to his tenure, including being cleared off waivers in March and participating in the NHL/NHLPA player assistance program before the Hurricanes took a shot at him.

“Of course it was a long, hard season for me and a lot of things went wrong and things like that,” Kuznetsov said. “For me it was a great opportunity to start again in the first game of the play-offs.”

Kuznetsov centered the fourth line in Saturday’s 3-1 win against the Islanders, but took an early lead by jamming the puck into the top left corner above Semyon Varlamov’s right shoulder on the power play.

Kuznetsov – who marked the moment with his bird-like, arm-waving celebration – became the second player in franchise history to score a goal in the first 95 seconds of his first playoff game when he joined Matt Cullen in 2006. on Stefan Noesen’s winner early in the third for a two-point night.

The Islanders did well enough to win the match, including dominating the second period and blocking shots to minimize stress on Varlamov, while also finishing with a nine-shot lead. But they also came up empty after a pair of key chances against Frederik Andersen, who parried a finish attempt after Noah Dobson’s rebound while in the crease. Kyle Palmieri’s reach past an extended Andersen went wide of the open net.

“This is a team that plays well defensively, so there may not be any tic-tac-toe type of goals,” Islanders coach Patrick Roy said Sunday. “It could be more like, ‘Hey, we need to get the puck to the net.’ … These are the kinds of goals that maybe we should have.”

LEAFS at BRUINS, Bruins lead 1-0, 7:00 PM ET (ESPN)

After a stellar performance from Jeremy Swayman in Game 1, Bruins coach Jim Montgomery must decide whether to continue alternating him with 2023 Vezina Trophy winner Linus Ullmark, as the team has done all season.

“It will be difficult to move on from Sway. He played a great game,” Montgomery said on Saturday evening after the 5-1 win. “If we decide to go with Ullmark, we feel comfortable with it, and our team feels comfortable with it as well.”

For the Leafs, the big question is whether No. 2 scorer William Nylander will be available after missing his first game in more than two seasons. He missed Game 1 with an undisclosed injury.

“He’s obviously a great player and a big part of our team,” Toronto center Auston Matthews said. “We’ve been in situations where we’ve had key players out all season. Just about other guys getting opportunities – more opportunities – and going the extra mile and making the most of it.”

STARS, Game 1, 9:30 PM ET (ESPN)

Reigning Cup champion Vegas claimed the Western Conference’s second wild-card spot, earning a familiar opponent in Dallas, which finished second in the league behind the New York Rangers with 113 points.

The Golden Knights defeated the Stars in a six-game series in the Western finals en route to the title.

The Stars won 17 of their last 21 games and set a franchise record with the league’s top eight goal scorers, although the Knights won all three regular season meetings.

KINGS at OILERS, Game 1, 10:00 PM ET (ESPN2)

Edmonton and Los Angeles will meet in the first round for the third straight season, with the Oilers playing a seven-game series in 2022 and a six-game series in 2023.

The Oilers have won eight of 12 meetings over the past three regular seasons.

“I think we owe them,” Kings forward Quinton Byfield said. “It will certainly be a tough task, but it is a team we really want to beat.”

AP Sports Writers Jimmy Golen in Boston, Stephen Hawkins in Dallas and Joe Reedy in Los Angeles contributed to this report.

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