RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) Nothing came easily for the Carolina Hurricanes to start the NHL playoffs.

Stefan Noesen scored the go-ahead goal early in the third while Frederik Andersen had a huge night in net to help the Hurricanes push past the New York Islanders 3-1 on Saturday to open their first-round series.

Andersen had 34 saves, including a huge one from essentially on his side while down in the crease early in the third period. And he stood up to steady pressure with the Islanders carrying their late-season surge to clinch a playoff spot into this one to finish with a nine-shot advantage while spending much of the first two periods carrying the action.

"You don't want to be a team relying on your goalie, but Freddie's always been there for us and has made the big save when we need it," defenseman Brady Skjei said, adding: “Obviously we've got to do a little better job of helping him out.”

Noesen scored the winner when he grabbed a loose puck atop the crease and pushed it past Semyon Varlamov at 3:44 of the third period, while Martin Necas added an empty-net clincher that skittered in from beyond the blue line with 1:32 to go.

Game 2 of the best-of-7 first-round series is Monday night.

Rookie Kyle MacLean scored in the first period for the Islanders, pushing a loose puck on a stop by Andersen across the line in a scramble to tie the score. Varlamov finished with 23 saves, but the Islanders couldn't cash in on the few openings Andersen left at the other end.

The wildest came after Andersen had slipped teammate Brett Pesce's skate and fell in the crease just as Noah Dobson rang the right post by him. The puck slid back to Dobson, who skated in on the prone Andersen - only to see the netminder bat down the puck from the ice.

Andersen said he just “tried to come up with something, get close to the puck and get something on it.”

It was a moment that stood out to Islanders coach Patrick Roy, too.

“Encouraged because I thought we played a really solid game,” Roy said. “We did a lot of good things out there, it was a hard-fought game but we had our chances. And frustrated because we had our chances."

The Islanders are in the playoffs for the fifth time in six years, though it wasn’t an easy battle to get back. Their up-and-down season included a January coaching change (firing Lane Lambert) and a six-game skid as recently as mid-March.

But New York won eight of its last nine to clinch a playoff spot Monday.

The Hurricanes are in the playoffs for the sixth straight year and entered as the favorite to win the Stanley Cup, according to Bet MGM Sportsbook, bolstered by a largely health roster compared to missing critical pieces in each of the last two seasons and trade-deadline acquisitions in Jake Guentzel and Evgeny Kuznetsov.

Kuznetsov also scored for Carolina, converting a power play just 95 seconds into his postseason debut with the franchise - a moment he marked with his bird-like, arm-flapping celebration. Still, the man who was a key piece of Washington's run to the Stanley Cup in 2018 called the first 40 minutes for Carolina “unacceptable."

“A lot of things went wrong," Kuznetsov said. "They outshot us, i felt like they outcompete in some areas. but that's why we have a pretty good team and we regroup after 40 minutes. We knew what we had to fix and we did that.”

The Islanders played without center Jean-Gabriel Pageau after he was knocked from Wednesday’s regular-season finale against Pittsburgh due to a lower-body injury, leading to MacLean's elevation to the third line. The Hurricanes were missing forward Jesper Fast, who suffered a neck strain that knocked him out of Carolina’s finale against Columbus.


AP NHL playoffs: https://apnews.com/hub/stanley-cup and https://apnews.com/hub/nhl

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