The question of whether or not the Nashville Predators would appear in the Stanley Cup Playoffs had an uncertain answer as recently as last week. The team has navigated an up-and-down season, from the highs of Juuse Saros’s heroics to the lows of Mattias Ekholm trade rumors. Despite all of the questions, and despite all of the doubts, the Preds clawed their way in. Now, it’s anyone's game; just ask the boys from 2017.
After facing off in the final two games of the regular season, the Preds ran it back against the top-seed Carolina Hurricanes in game one of the first round. Saros and Alex Nedeljkovic got the starts in goal for Nashville and Carolina, respectively.
Game 1:— Adam Vingan (@AdamVingan) May 17, 2021
The opening twenty minutes of Nashville’s playoff run began with four-on-four play (just like everyone predicted). Calle Järnkrok got called for interference on Brock McGinn, who was also called for embellishment. Neither team scored in this short-staffed two minutes of hockey, but the vibe of this game was clear; Nashville was finishing every hit with that extra flavor of brutality that you only find in the playoffs. With a playstyle that focuses on physicality, staying out of the box is crucial, especially against the second-ranked power play in Carolina.
Nashville was given a chance to show its competence on the penalty kill early; Alexandre Carrier was sent to the box for tripping. Thankfully for the Predators, Saros and the team survived the two minutes despite persistent pressure from the home team. After Nino Neiderreiter cross-checked Ryan Ellis, the Preds would have a chance of their own on the power play. Despite another chaotic man-advantage opportunity that included a sequence where Nedeljkovic lost his stick, the score was still tied at the halfway mark of the period. Filip Forsberg changed that.
With around eight minutes to go in the first period, the Swede weaved through the ‘Canes defense to deke and dangle past Nedeljkovic to break the ice in game one. Forsberg, back with his old JOFA linemates in Ryan Johansen and Viktor Arvidsson, put Nashville ahead by one. Less than two minutes later, Carolina answered. Brett Pesce lofted in the puck from the blue line, and a redirect from Teuvo Teräväinen put Saros out of position and the Canes at one goal. Once again, we had a tie.
What followed was yet another sequence of high velocity, blow-for-blow hockey. Boos were heard for former-Hurricane and current-Predator Erik Haula, and bodies were flying in every direction. In another unfortunate break for Nashville, Johansen was sent to the box for tripping late in the first, sending Nashville back to the penalty kill where they so often let goals in.
Once again, the Predators weathered Carolina’s attacks and kept the score at one; a few more seconds would pass before the first period ended. With a nearly even shot count, trailing the ‘Canes 10-13, Head Coach John Hynes led his team back to the locker room with some points to be proud of; regardless, there was still a mountain of work to be done.
#Preds and #Canes at 5 on 5— Bryan Bastin (@BryanBastin) May 18, 2021
In eight regular season games, NSH went:
49.1% Shot Attempts
49.7% Shots on Goal
49.7% Expected Goals
9 goals/10 goals against
In the first period tonight:
1 goal/1 goal against
The middle frame of game one opened with a full minute of offensive-zone time for Carolina; after a brief clear for the Predators, Forsberg sent a high stick at Martin Necas. Nashville was right back on the penalty kill. Luckily, Teräväinen responded with a trip on Haula of his own to abbreviate the power play. The teams played at four-on-four briefly, but Hurricanes captain Jordan Staal had enough time to put a goal past Saros; the Canadian center got past Nashville’s defense and buried the top-shelf goal from the side of the net. After breaking out to an early lead, Nashville now had to rebound from falling behind.
After the goal, the Preds appeared shell-shocked; Carolina was able to occupy as much offensive-zone time as they wanted, and Saros had to be the lone soldier to hold the line. The Finnish goaltender was able to prevent any more goals from being allowed, and the offense was finally ready to answer. Matt Duchene served the puck in open ice to Haula on a silver platter, and the fan-favorite forward from Carolina delivered a wrister that tied the affair at two.
After the goal, Haula remained the focus of Carolina’s frustration; he was checked into the boards and then took an additional elbow to the head from Steven Lorentz that sent the Canes forward to the box for roughing. Back on the power play, Nashville unsurprisingly kicked things off with a two-on-one break going the opposite direction. After not creating any high-danger chances with their own man advantage, the Predators were punished by being sent to on the penalty kill themselves; this time, courtesy of a holding call on Roman Josi. Despite going up against an elite power play force, Nashville still managed to keep Carolina off the board on the man advantage.
Both teams would trade chances to end the period, but none would find the back of the net. Entering the final period of play, Nashville found itself in yet another gridlock, this time at two goals instead of one. With home-ice advantage on the line, the third period of game one would set the stage for the rest of the series to come
The Hurricanes came out of the gates in the third period with a fire in their eyes, the “we need to make a statement win tonight” sort of fire. They took the lead early; after a wild save from Saros, Necas dished the rebound to Neiderreiter, who fired a second shot that blew right past him. With a goal lead and the crowd roaring, Carolina had all of the momentum; on the other bench, Nashville needed another quick answer. They did not get one.
Instead, Carolina would extend its lead. Staal flung a slow puck at the net, and a flurry of skaters in front of Saros prevented him from reading the puck. Staal earned his second goal of the night, and the Hurricanes led by two with a half of a period to go.
Besides penalties on Matt Duchene and Warren Foegele for unsportsmanlike conduct, the rest of the game played out like a sunset slowly falling below the horizon. The Predators were clearly out of gas after the second goal from Staal, and Carolina was content to let the clock wind down. Saros left the net for an extra skater late in the period, but Andrei Svechnikov would bury the puck into an empty net on a breakaway to make the score 5-2.
Oh well, maybe by Wednesday they will have found a nine foot tall defenceman to fix this— angrypredsfan (@AngryPredsFan) May 18, 2021
With Nashville officially out of this game, all that was left to do was get out of the building and regroup. These Predators have been no stranger to adversity this season, and they meet with it once again. Game two on Wednesday.
OTFs Three Stars of the Game
- Erik Haula — Owned real estate in the heads of every Canes fan in the arena, and scored a big goal.
- Filip Forsberg — Scored a beauty of an opening goal.
- Matt Duchene — Didn’t have an incredible 60 minutes, but his pass to Haula was stellar.