Bon retour! Kotkaniemi scores against old team in Hurricanes’ win in Montreal

The 21-year-old Finnish forward quieted the Bell Centre crowd with a third period goal that sealed Carolina's win

Hurricanes forward Jesperi Kotkaniemi, center, celebrates his goal against the Canadiens with Brady Skjei, Sebastian Aho, Teuvo Teravainen and Brett Pesce, from left, in the third period of Carolina's 4-1 win Thursday in Montreal. (Paul Chiasson / The Canadian Press via AP)

Jesperi Kotkaniemi’s return to Montreal wound up as predictable as a gruyere-infused romance novel.

The 21-year-old Hurricanes forward scored in his first game against his old team, redirecting a point shot at 9:23 of the third period to give Carolina an insurance goal and register his first point with his new team in a 4-1 win over the Canadiens at Bell Centre.

Kotkaniemi, serenaded with boos each time he touched the puck on the ice where he played the first three seasons of his career, forced a turnover on the right boards in the Montreal end and worked his way to the front of the net. He then tipped a Brady Skjei one-timer past Jake Allen to give Carolina a 3-1 lead and allow the former third overall pick to have the last laugh on the partisan crowd and his former team.

“It felt really good,” said Kotkaniemi, who saw the one-year, $6.1 million offer sheet he signed with Carolina not matched by the Canadiens in the offseason. “It was a big relief after those first two games, but it was a great feeling.”

Sebastian Aho, who assisted on Kotkaniemi’s tally, added an empty-net goal to go with his earlier power play marker for a three-point night against the team with which he signed an offer sheet in 2019. That started a front office feud that escalated further when Carolina successfully plucked Kotkaniemi from Montreal using the same tactic.

Jokingly asked how it was to beat his “old team,” a stone-faced Aho stated, “Not my old team.”

The Canadiens also aren’t the same old team as last year’s Cup finalists. Montreal slid to 0-5-0 on the season — the only team in the league without a point in the standings — and has scored just four goals in 15 periods of hockey to start the 2021-22 campaign.

It looked like the Canadiens, however, had opened the scoring to hold its first lead in nearly 290 minutes of game time.

A flurry of first period penalties left Carolina at a 4-on-3 penalty kill. The Hurricanes survived that, but Montreal appeared to score on the ensuing 5-on-4 with a redirection by Brendan Gallagher just over five minutes into the game. But Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour challenged for goaltender interference, and Gallagher was deemed to have obstructed goalie Frederik Andersen (27 saves) and the goal was overturned.

“Goalie interference, it’s always a crapshoot, right?” Brind’Amour said. “You just don’t know. But by the letter of the law, he’s in the crease and he bumps the goalie, so we just went with that. I mean, it’s that simple. … But I’ve seen it go a lot of different ways.”

Carolina capitalized by striking twice early in the second to seize control.

The Hurricanes first used the balance of power play time remaining from the end of the first period to score at the beginning of the second. Aho one-timed a cross-ice feed from Teuvo Teravainen past Allen (29 saves) to make it 1-0 just 23 seconds into the middle frame.

Carolina quickly stretched the lead to two when Martin Necas threaded a pass through a pair of Canadiens’ sticks and Andrei Svechnikov scored over Allen’s shoulder for his fourth goal in three games and a 2-0 Hurricanes lead at 2:12 of the second.

Tyler Toffoli scored his first of the year to halve the lead, scoring at the goalmouth to give the Canadiens a power play goal with just over two minutes left in the second.

But the Hurricanes’ penalty kill — and Andersen — suffocated Montreal’s power play most of the night, limiting the Habs to just six shots on goal in 9:07 of man-advantage time as Carolina was whistled for six penalties — including two more by Svechnikov, who has eight PIMs in three games.

“We gave up one, but when you’re in the box that much, that’s not’s good,” Brind’Amour said. “So we did a heck of a job there. Our killers came up big, and then our goalie was great again tonight. Let’s be perfectly clear, that’s the difference in the game. We can’t take all those penalties and rely on the goalie that much.”

Svechnikov, as he did against Nashville, redeemed himself with a goal after he took his undisciplined first penalty, giving Carolina the eventual game-winning tally. He added another infraction in the third period when the Hurricanes were clinging to a one-goal lead.

“I got those couple of penalties and I probably shouldn’t get them,” Svechnikov said.

His coach agreed.

“Svech has taken another step, but he can’t take the penalties,” Brind’Amour said. “He’s a very competitive guy and he’s got to learn. … He just can’t retaliate.”

But Andersen and the three Finns guided the Hurricanes to a third straight win to start the year. Kotkaniemi got his goal, and Teravainen had two assists to join Aho and Vincent Trocheck with multipoint nights.

And while Kotkaniemi won Round 1 against his old team, it will be a long time before it’s determined which team got the upper hand in the back-and-forth between the two teams’ front offices.

Svechnikov likes Carolina’s chances.

“I think he’s a star,” Svechnikov said of Kotkaniemi. “He’s gonna be a star.”

He was for one night — and the villain as well.