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Frank Vatrano leads Ducks past Hurricanes in home opener of 30th anniversary season

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  • Ducks defenseman Pavel Mintyukov, left, celebrates with Jackson LaCombe after...

    Ducks defenseman Pavel Mintyukov, left, celebrates with Jackson LaCombe after Mintyukov’s goal in the first period against Carolina in the 2023 opening game in Anaheim on Sunday, October 15, 2023. It was Mintyukov’s first goal for the Ducks. (Photo by Paul Rodriguez, Contributing Photographer)

  • Trent Sullivan, center, stands with Ducks defenseman Cam Fowler, left,...

    Trent Sullivan, center, stands with Ducks defenseman Cam Fowler, left, and defenseman Radko Gudas, right, as he is introduced to crowd as this year’s 21st Duck before the start of the 2023 opening game in Anaheim on Sunday, October 15, 2023. (Photo by Paul Rodriguez, Contributing Photographer)

  • Ducks defenseman Pavel Mintyukov (34) is congratulated at the bench...

    Ducks defenseman Pavel Mintyukov (34) is congratulated at the bench after he scored his goal against Carolina in the first period in the 2023 opening game in Anaheim on Sunday, October 15, 2023. (Photo by Paul Rodriguez, Contributing Photographer)

  • Ducks right wing Brett Leason, left, collides with Carolina goaltender...

    Ducks right wing Brett Leason, left, collides with Carolina goaltender Antti Raanta in the 2023 opening game in Anaheim on Sunday, October 15, 2023. (Photo by Paul Rodriguez, Contributing Photographer)

  • Ducks goaltender Lukas Dostal deflects a shot away from the...

    Ducks goaltender Lukas Dostal deflects a shot away from the goal by Carolina in the first period in the 2023 opening game in Anaheim on Sunday, October 15, 2023. (Photo by Paul Rodriguez, Contributing Photographer)

  • Ducks defenseman Jackson LaCombe, right, controls the puck in front...

    Ducks defenseman Jackson LaCombe, right, controls the puck in front of Carolina center Sebastian Aho in the 2023 opening game in Anaheim on Sunday, October 15, 2023. (Photo by Paul Rodriguez, Contributing Photographer)

  • Trent Sullivan, center, stands with Ducks defenseman Cam Fowler, left,...

    Trent Sullivan, center, stands with Ducks defenseman Cam Fowler, left, and defenseman Radko Gudas, right, as he is introduced to crowd as this year’s 21st Duck before the start of the 2023 opening game in Anaheim on Sunday, October 15, 2023. (Photo by Paul Rodriguez, Contributing Photographer)

ANAHEIM –– It’ll take more than three periods to make a substantive statement, but in their home opener Sunday the Ducks may have at least offered a proclamation: this team is a hell of a lot tougher to play against than it was just a few short months ago.

They picked the right night for their wordless announcement as they had a standing-room-only crowd on hand Sunday at Honda Center for the first home game of the franchise’s 30th anniversary season. The Ducks prevailed 6-3 against one of the NHL’s top teams, the Carolina Hurricanes.

Not only did the Ducks match one of the NHL’s fastest teams stride for stride, they took them out of their comfort zone and fended off a rally that saw Carolina draw to within a goal after trailing 4-1.

Frank Vatrano turned in a hat trick and also had a roughing penalty where he got his money’s worth. Fourth-liner Sam Carrick carried over a prolific preseason into the regular year with a goal in Game No. 2 after a 4-1 loss in Vegas Saturday. Pavel Mintyukov scored his first career NHL goal and Ryan Strome added two assists. Fittingly, the longest-serving Duck, Cam Fowler, iced the game with an empty-netter (and had an assist) before Vatrano piled on another. Mason McTavish had two helpers. In goal, Lukas Dostal made 31 saves in the victory.

Teuvo Teravainen scored two goals, one on the power-play, and Martin Necas added a man-advantage marker. No. 2 goalie Antti Raanta got the nod after former Ducks goalie Freddie Anderson beat the Kings 6-5 Saturday, and stopped 19 shots.

“It’s great to get a hat trick, but it doesn’t mean anything if you don’t win the game,” Vatrano said. “So, top-to-bottom, goaltending, defense, forwards, we had a lot of milestones tonight as well, throughout the team.”

Other than the empty-net goals, the third-period scoring belonged to Carolina and both their goals came on the power play. Teravainen scored off a long slap shot of a rolling puck to at least inspire thoughts of a final push for Carolina, which included a tip-in tally from Necas.

“We just dug ourselves too much of a hole,” said Carolina coach Rod Brind’Amour, whose club sustained its first loss after opening the season with two victories. “When we finally got going, it started looking a little better and, obviously, crawled back in the game [and] gave us a chance to possibly tie it up there.”

Teravainen had also scored in the second period, knocking down an airborne puck and rifling it past Dostal in a quick, fluid sequence.

Equally rapid fire were two saves made in quick succession by Dostal, who fended off the temeritous Hurricanes off at almost every turn, apart from Teravainen’s first tally, including closing the period with three more saves in a 25-second span. Cronin averred that Dostal’s play had a ripple effect across areas of the roster.

The Ducks were protected beyond their net though, and made Carolina feel at least slightly on edge. While Brind’Amour’s group has plenty of heft, they play a relentless style at a break-neck pace that leaves opponents winded rather than battered most nights. But the Ducks drew them into scrums routinely, including one that earned former Kings forward Brendan Lemiuex, now with Carolina, and newly acquired Ducks defenseman Radko Gudas game misconduct penalties.

The early going was owned by the Ducks, with Carrick opening the scoring, Vatrano earning them a cushion and Mintyukov getting his first goal from defense partner Jackson LaCombe, whose assist was his first NHL point. It was the fifth time in NHL history, which spans more than a century, that two rookie defenders combined for such a pleasant coincidence.

Mintyukov, a Russian whose English is strong but spoken in phrases with equal parts brevity and directness, said he kept the puck from his goal and felt great afterward. The Ducks had a third rookie on defense available, healthy scratch Tristan Luneau.

“Tonight’s [performance] was a reflection of the game just slowing down because they got their baptism last night,” Cronin said.

Yet perhaps the most notable rookie making his home debut Sunday was Cronin himself, who at 60 has seen as many orbits of the earth as his three fledgling rearguards combined. His first NHL win earned him a keepsake game puck as well, but the long wait didn’t carry much weight for Cronin.

“I’m not really that big on those things,” Cronin said. “It’s a nice symbol of my first win, and I’m already onto practice on Tuesday.”

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