RALEIGH, N.C. -- From the crawl of cars to get up to PNC Arena, to the crowds lined up outside to get in - it looked almost like 2019 before the puck dropped on the Canes 2021 playoff run.
"We've waited so long for this. We're more than ready for this," said John Brumley who arrived with his wife from Fuquay-Varina.
Many of these Caniacs arrived anxious for playoff hockey. But still with some apprehension about COVID-19.
"There's both but I think we were excited to come," said Daniel Wanamker. "We've both been vaccinated and felt like we'd done our part to make it as safe as we can."
After Governor Cooper lifted capacity restrictions last week, the NHL signed off on the Canes plan to host up to 12,000 fans inside. Monday's crowd easily becomes the largest indoor event in the Triangle since the lockdown.
"This is our first game this season," said David Radden from Clayton. "We're season ticket holders normally. But in lieu of everything going on we kind of held off for a while. But for the playoffs, we're ready to go!"
With fans packing the stands, the Canes did their part--beating the Nashville Predators 5-2.
Jordan Staal scored twice and Nino Niederreiter beat Juuse Saros for the go-ahead goal early in the third period. Niederreiter hammered the puck past Saros from between the circles at 2:26 of the third. Staal followed midway through the third by corralling a loose puck and beating Saros.
Teuvo Teravainen and Andrei Svechnikov also scored for Carolina. Filip Forsberg and Erik Haula scored for Nashville. Game 2 of the best-of-seven series is Wednesday.
The Associated Press contributed to this article.