Hurricanes v Capitals NHL Stadium Series outdoor hockey game

Carolina Hurricanes’ Jesperi Kotkaniemi (82) scores on Washington Capitals’ goalie Darcy Kuemper (35) to take a 1-0 lead in the first period during the Stadium Series game on Saturday, February 18, 2022 at Carter-Finley Stadium in Raleigh, N.C.

Carolina Hurricanes’ Jesperi Kotkaniemi (82) scores on Washington Capitals’ goalie Darcy Kuemper (35) to take a 1-0 lead in the first period during the Stadium Series game on Saturday, February 18, 2022 at Carter-Finley Stadium in Raleigh, N.C.

All in all, it was quite the spectacle, as many expected.

The 2023 Stadium Series outdoor game had it all: sartorial team entrances, fireworks, festive atmosphere, bands playing, a packed Carter-Finley Stadium. It was, by any measure, an electric scene and a great party thrown for nearly 57,000.

And the hosts delivered. The Carolina Hurricanes controlled most of the game Saturday, taking a 4-1 victory over the Washington Capitals on a historic night that should make for a lot of memories for those who waited so long for the moment.

“It exceeded expectations,” Canes forward Jordan Martinook said after the game. “That was nuts. It was cool to look around, and I looked around the whole game.

“Usually, I’m focused but I was gawking all over the place. It was incredible.”

Martin Necas, on the fly all night, had a goal and two assists in being named the game’s first star. Jesperi Kotkaniemi and Teuvo Teravainen each had a goal and assist for the Hurricanes (37-10-8), who led 1-0 after the first and then 4-0 after the second.

Add in a Paul Stastny goal, which proved to be the game-winner, and the Canes were in front from start to finish as goalie Frederik Andersen picked up the win with 24 saves.

“I wish we could play all the games here,” Kotkaniemi joked. “It was unbelievable. Great atmosphere all night. I just tried to soak everything in. I had goosebumps, for sure.”

If the ice conditions were a concern, and they usually are in outdoor games, it didn’t bother Andersen. He handled his play in the crease smoothly enough, making 24 saves, while assisting on the Teravainen score, allowing only a third-period goal to Tom Wilson.

The Caps (28-24-6) were again without their captain, Alex Ovechkin, just as they were earlier in the week when they were beaten by the Canes in Washington. Ovechkin left the team to return to Russia and later used his social-media account to say his father had died.

This was a game first announced by the NHL in 2020, then put on hold by the pandemic until 2023. But it was also worth the wait and the sellout crowd of 56,961 was ready for it.

After a week when the temperature reached the mid-70s, it was cooler Saturday and the game-time temperature 43 degrees – nearly ideal for those watching outside at N.C. State’s football stadium, including Wolfpack coach Dave Doeren..

“The ice was great, the weather was great. Everything was perfect, really,” Teravainen said.

Everyone stressed that it was a regular-season game, not an exhibition, and two points there for the winner. And the Caps need the points as they contend for playoff position in what should be a fight to the finish line in the Eastern Conference.

Kotkaniemi’s goal had the home fans standing and cheering early, coming at 2:11 of the first period. It was the center’s second in as many games — he opened the Canes scoring Thursday in the 6-2 win over the Montreal Canadiens — and his third in the past four games.

Teravainen centered the puck and Kotkaniemi was there in front to beat Darcy Kuemper for his 10th of the season.

“It was the first shift for our line and we were just trying to shoot everything,” Kotkaniemi said. “Turbo found me with a great pass.”

The Canes had another strong start in the second. Stastny was in the right spot at the right time to push a rebound past Kuemper at 5:47 of the period.

The Canes soon got a power-play chance — Jordan Staal being high-sticked — and took advantage as Necas gunned a shot from the left circle for his 22nd.

Necas’ goal made it 3-0, and the fleet winger than teamed with Teravainen for a transition score on a well-executed rush — and after the breakout pass from Andersen to Teravainen to start the give-and-go.

“We took the game over and never really gave them a chance to come back,” Teravainen said.

Make it three goals in 5:30 for the Canes. The Caps used their timeout and soon turned more physical.

Martinook dropped the gloves to trade blows with Washington’s Anthony Mantha, landing both players in the penalty boxes and Mantha getting an extra two minutes for cross-checking Martinook.

“Just part of the game,” Martinook said, smiling. “It’s all good.”

That skirmish had the stadium loud. But it was loud most of the night. It was historic and it was special.

This story was originally published February 18, 2023, 11:12 PM.

In more than 30 years at The N&O, Chip Alexander has covered the N.C. State, UNC, Duke and East Carolina beats, and now is in his 11th 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 a part of The N&O’s coverage of the Canes’ 2006 Stanley Cup run.

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