NHL season resumes with Carolina Hurricanes win over New York Rangers

NHL season resumes with Carolina Hurricanes win over New York Rangers
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TORONTO — The NHL’s most unusual season in history resumed Saturday with five qualifying round games as the league kickstarted its pandemic -hit campaign.

The New York Rangers and Carolina Hurricanes got things going 142 days after COVID-19 forced a suspension of the schedule on March 12 with a noon ET opening faceoff at Scotiabank Arena.

Any concern about a lack of emotion for the 24-team resumption of play without fans in attendance was put to rest early when Carolina’s Brady Skjei rocked Jesper Fast with a massive open-ice hit.

Jaccob Slavin scored the NHL’s first-ever August goal moments later on the opening shot just 61 seconds in when he roofed a puck on Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist. The 38-year-old Lundqvist was a surprise starter when rookie sensation Igor Shesterkin was deemed unfit to play — the league’s new all-encompassing term if a player is sick or injured to avoid revealing the identity of someone who’s tested positive for the novel coronavirus.

Hurricanes winger Justin Williams, whose team picked up a 3-2 victory to grab a 1-0 lead in the best-of-five series, and New York centre Ryan Strome then dropped the gloves in a spirited fight as both benches banged their sticks on the boards inside the frigid, cavernous venue on a day when the mercury hit 28 C outside.

Two more games were set for Toronto later Saturday as part of the qualifying round — the Florida Panthers vs. the New York Islanders and the Montreal Canadiens vs. the Pittsburgh Penguins — while in Edmonton, the Oilers were set to take on the Chicago Blackhawks and the Winnipeg Jets were scheduled to battle the Calgary Flames.

The eight teams that advance from the qualifying round will join the top-4 seeds in each conference as part of the usual 16-slot playoff bracket.

While television viewers had crowd noise pumped into the broadcast, hearing both benches celebrate big moments or complain about a perceived injustice over a dull drone of canned fan reaction coming through the arena’s speakers made it sound more like a intense beer league game than an NHL post-season matchup.
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