RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — The Carolina Hurricanes stepped out of the tunnel in a stadium packed full of buzzing fans, with the lights from cellphone flashlights bouncing along the stands and North Carolina State's marching band playing to their pregame walk to an outdoor rink.
“Not having experienced one of those," Carolina coach Rod Brind'Amour said, "I don't know how it could be much better, to be honest with you."
The Hurricanes did their part on the ice, too.
Martin Necas had a goal and two assists to help the Hurricanes beat the Washington Capitals 4-1 on Saturday night in their first NHL Stadium Series outdoor game.
Jesperi Kotkaniemi, Paul Stastny and Teuvo Teravainen also scored for Carolina, which completed a three-game season sweep of their Metropolitan Division foe.
The game was held at Carter-Finley Stadium, home to North Carolina State’s college football team and across the street from Carolina’s home ice at PNC Arena. Delayed two years because of COVID-19 attendance restrictions, the game drew a buzzing sellout crowd of 56,961 fans on a night that felt more like spectacle than a regular-season game.
“That was cool," Stastny said. “I'm not a big college (football) guy but I always kind of watch those Saturday night games under the lights, when they come down from the tunnel, and that's what it kind of felt like.”
“There’s no question,” Carolina captain Jordan Staal said, “those are pinch-yourself moments.”
Tom Wilson scored in the third period for the Capitals, who suffered their fourth straight loss. The past three have come without captain and leading goal-scorer Alex Ovechkin, who is away after the death of his father.
“We’ve got to get our confidence back,” Wilson said. “We’ve got to get our swagger back a little bit.”
Carolina finished with a 10th win in 11 games. And this one had the added significance that came with the long-awaited outdoor game — the latest chance for the league to hold one of its marquee events in a so-called “nontraditional” market within its southern footprint.
Temperatures hit the 70s for multiple days earlier in the week, while rain arrived to delay Friday’s practices, but conditions were optimal Saturday: clear and chilly all day, with temperatures dipping into the low 40s by the puck drop and high 30s by the final horn.
The Hurricanes gave their festive crowd plenty of reasons to stay rowdy, starting with Kotkaniemi’s finish in close barely two minutes into the game. Then Carolina scored three goals in a 5 1/2-minute span of the second period to blow this one open.
“We found ourselves chasing them and chasing the game," Washington coach Peter Laviolette said.
The highlight was Necas hammering a one-timer on the power play from the left side past Darcy Kuemper. The flurry also included Hurricane goaltender Frederik Andersen tallying an assist.
On a night when he finished with 24 saves, Andersen earned a point when he lofted a long pass to Teravainen to ignite a 2-on-1 chance, with Teravainen passing to Necas, who drew Kuemper to his side and sent it back to Teravainen for the easy putaway and a 4-0 lead.
The teams followed outdoor-game tradition by arriving in coordinated and themed attire, from a comfortable afternoon on the links to a throwback to glory days on the high school gridiron.
The Hurricanes walked from PNC Arena in old-timey plaid golf knickers, matching hats and a black top over a white collared shirt with red tie. Defensemen Brent Burns and Jaccob Slavin were among those to complete the look by carrying a golf club.
The Capitals exited a school bus sporting blue jeans, a white T-shirt, custom lettermen-styled jackets, knitted caps and toting footballs.
Fittingly, Carolina's postgame “Storm Surge” on-ice celebration for the fans followed the golf theme.
After leading fans in coordinated claps, the players dropped their gloves to the ice used their hockey sticks to swing at them as though they were teeing off.
NODS TO THE PACK
NHL chief content officer Steve Mayer had said the night would also honor host N.C. State. And there were plenty such touches.
The Wolfpack marching band sat behind one goal at ice level. Mascots Mr. and Ms. Wuf sported Hurricanes gear. And there was the familiar football gameday sight of the motorized cart featuring a large white N.C. State football helmet on a wolf head parked near the Capitals tunnel.
Former Wolfpack basketball greats David Thompson and Dereck Whittenburg — who led N.C. State to NCAA championships in 1974 and 1983, respectively — introduced the Hurricanes as they emerged from the tunnel.
And finally, there was Ripken the Bat Dog — official tee retriever for N.C. State football and bat retriever for the nearby minor-league Durham Bulls baseball team — performing a ceremonial puck drop between Staal and Washington's Nicklas Backstrom.
Capitals: Host Detroit on Tuesday night.
Hurricanes: Host St. Louis on Tuesday night.
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