Kuznetsov pays dividends for Hurricanes in Game 1 of the East’s first round

Kuznetsov made it 1-0 on the power play at 1:35 of the first period as Anders Lee remained standing in the box. Kuznetsov took over a pass from Martin Necas in the left circle and, with Stefan Noesen leading, fired past a shielded Semyon Varlamov from an acute angle.

He became the second player to score in the first 95 seconds of his first playoff game with the franchise, joining Matt Cullen, who did it 50 seconds into Game 1 of the 2006 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals against the Montreal Canadiens. He also became the third active player to score a goal in the first 95 seconds of his first playoff game with a franchise, following Golden Knights forward Chandler Stephenson (2020) and Toronto Maple Leafs forward Mitch Marner (2017).

But the Hurricanes struggled afterward, allowing the Islanders to take control of the game. Kyle MacLean made it 1-1 at 8:20 with his first NHL playoff goal, then New York dominated the second period, with the brilliance of Frederik Andersen (33 saves) keeping the score even.

Kuznetsov said the performance during the first forty minutes was unacceptable.

He was part of changing the narrative.

Kuznetsov shot from above for the winning goal. The puck deflected off teammate Brady Skjei and Islanders defenseman Ryan Pulock before falling onto the stick of Noesen, who slotted it home at 3:44 of the third period.

“There’s no other way I know how to do it,” Noesen said, laughing.

But he knows his linemate is much more skilled.

“He’s a great player and anytime you get him to play competitively it’s going to enhance his skills,” Noesen said. “That’s why we now have our line together. I feel like we have two guys (with Jack Drury) who work extremely hard and let him create space for himself and do his thing. You need that at this time of year.”

It was not Kuznetsov who would now make headlines. It was Guentzel.

In the normal situation, Guentzel paid immediate and long-lasting results, scoring 25 points (eight goals and 17 assists) in 17 games with the Hurricanes, and fitting into the lineup perfectly as soon as he joined the lineup. Kuznetsov, meanwhile, had seven points (two goals, five assists) in 20 regular-season games with them and struggled at times to find his way in his new team’s fast-paced, high-pressure game.

After seeing a lot of time here at center on the second line, he found himself on the fourth line for the start of the playoffs.

Does not matter.

There may not be a more dangerous center on the fourth line this postseason.

“He’s a big-player,” Skjei said. “He’s proven that in the past in the play-offs and he was huge for us tonight. Obviously, getting that goal early was huge.

“He is one of the most skilled and talented players I have ever seen or played with. So hopefully he can continue. He has been a big part of our team here since he got here and we are happy to have him.”

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