The Nashville Predators took on the Carolina Hurricanes in their first home playoff game since April 20th, 2019 against the Dallas Stars. Who were the standout players, what happened, and why did the game conclude the way it did? All that and more below.
The Predators hung tough with Carolina for the opening minutes, but the overwhelming Canes forecheck forced its fair share of turnovers and blocked passes, resulting in some quality looks for the Jerks. Surprisingly, though, it only took four minutes for Nashville to take control of the game, with the Preds winning the xG and CF battle the rest of the period. Juuse Saros had to come up with some big saves, including a flurry in the opening minutes, but the remainder of the opening 20 was as close to smooth sailing as a Preds fan could reasonably hope for.
Nashville tallied the first goal of the game when Ryan Ellis put a seeing-eye shot past a double screen provided by Tanner Jeannot and Yakov Trenin. The Herd Line was firing on all cylinders to start the night, setting the tone with hard forechecking and effective net front presence that was absent in the first two games of the series, and it paid off here.
Then came the chant, the sweet, sweet chant. For the first time all year, Bridgestone rang with the chants of a crowd of over 12,000 fans telling Alex Nedeljkovic that he sucked; what a time to be alive.
nashville predators *insert goalie here* you suck chants are back nature is healing.— Tony X (@soIoucity) May 21, 2021
The Hurricanes tied it on an incredibly fluky goal that Juuse Saros arguably should have stopped, coming from a shot that Sebastian Aho essentially flung blindly from the left side boards and floating into the top shelf, right side. The crowd was a bit deflated, but only for a few minutes thanks to one man. Mr. Mustache himself caught a stretch pass, walked Dougie Hamilton like he was Erik Gudbranson, and powered to the net before tucking one past Nedeljokvic with under a minute remaining. Pay this man all the money.
The Predators held off the Canes for the final seconds before heading to the locker room with their first lead exiting a period in this series. Not too shabby to open a crucial home game.
The Hurricanes continued their stretch of cold play to begin the period, allowing Nashville to widen the xG and CF gaps considerably in the first minutes of play. Unfortunately for the Predators, Jordan Staal halted Carolina’s slide with a game-tying goal on a breakaway. Less than ideal!
You can always count on the Captain pic.twitter.com/3Y7RfR6kPG— Carolina Hurricanes (@Canes) May 22, 2021
From there, the Hurricanes played hockey like they’ve often been able to, dominating the entire middle 10 minutes or so and punctuating their heater with a Vincent Trocheck goal to make it 3-2. Nashville had yet again been flat-out outplayed by the team before them, and it felt as though the series was slipping away.
The period was not a complete loss, as Mikael Granlund tied things back up, but the pressure was on in Bridgestone for the home team to grab the lead back entering the third period.
Nashville dominated this period, until they didn’t. The Predators lived in Carolina’s end, peppering Alex Nedeljkovic and generally dictating the pace and direction of play. This culminated five minutes into the period with a Ryan Johansen goal off a beautiful deflection to make it 4-3. Bridgestone was revived by the goal, and all seemed well... until the final minutes.
With just over 6 minutes remaining, the Hurricanes began to recuperate from the barrage of Nashville power plays and responded with one of their own. The Preds successfully killed the infraction off behind a series of fantastic blocks by Ryan Ellis, but the onslaught was only beginning. The Canes executed a vicious forechecking effort to knot the game up, and they did just that thanks to a Predators breakdown and a Brett Pesce bullet.
Nashville had a 2-on-1 chance with little time remaining, but Nedeljkovic denied Colton Sissons and sent the game to overtime. Not the best result in a series where Nashville is looking to conserve energy in their quest to pull the upset, and particularly unfortunate given the late collapse and the momentum shift occurring behind that.
It was a hectic overtime period with plenty of looks for both teams, but the Hurricanes handily controlled the majority of chances and had a number of butt-clenching shots that almost skittered into the net. Juuse Saros barely deflected a shot that still sputtered past him (but didn’t end up becoming a goal), Alex Nedeljkovic slammed the door on some opportunities in tight for the Preds, and the first overtime concluded with the tie unbroken. To double OT we went.
After more of the same excruciating tension and back-and-forth play, the Predators received a power play opportunity drawn via Matt Duchene’s speed. While the man advantage couldn’t get it done, No. 95 would cradle a stretch pass late in the second overtime and roof it over Nedeljkovic for the game winner, concluding one of the most memorable playoff games in Preds history.
This marks the first legitimate home playoff win Nashville has seen since game two against Dallas in 2019-2020. Celebrate, folks; it’s on to the next.
Three Big Things
- Juuse Saros fell just short of Dan Ellis’s record for most saves in a game by a Nashville Predator and decidedly kept the Preds in the game, even when Carolina had their massive offensive surges. He let up one or two goals that he might want back, but honestly anyone who complains about his performance tonight is a loser. He’s been exactly as advertised this postseason.
- This was a huge game for the whipping boys of Preds Facebook, but nobody stood out as much as Filip Forsberg, who rocked a remarkable 84.2 xGF% in all situations (was 3rd on the team at 5-on-5). The Prince who was promised provided us all with a ridiculous goal to go with his outstanding performance, building upon his legacy of stepping up in the playoffs. Ryan Johansen and Matt Duchene clicked beautifully with Forsberg, and that line needs to stick together for the foreseeable future.
- Speaking of lineup adjustments, credit to John Hynes for FINALLY icing combinations that made an ounce of sense given who he had at his disposal. The returns of Järnkrok and Cousins certainly helped things, but putting Carrier with Josi and Ellis with Ekholm turned out to be a pretty decent fix to the team’s defensive woes, at least for the time being. The Predators actually outplayed the Hurricanes for significant chunks of tonight; if they can replicate this despite having less gas in the tank, this series will be tight.
This song bangs. Enjoy.
Good night, good hockey, and as always, go Preds. See y’all for game four.
All stats via Evolving-Hockey.com