Prior to last night, down 2-0, fears were mounting that Nashville could trail a series 3-0 for the first time in franchise history. Matt Duchene assured us that wouldn’t be the case.
In a thrilling double overtime game, the Nashville Predators defeated the Carolina Hurricanes 5-4 as playoff hockey returned to Bridgestone Arena for the first time since 2019. Matt Duchene, who looked dangerous all evening, won the game with a nifty goal, lofting the puck over the shoulder of Carolina goaltender Alex Nedeljkovic.
The goal pulled the Predators back into the series, now trailing the Hurricanes two games to one. Here are the key lessons from last night.
1. Home Sweet Home
The Predators came out of the gates flying and looked more alive than their previous two games. There are a lot of reasons for this, such as the boost of just playing in front of the Bridgestone faithful. However, the real noticeable differences came in the second period and the first overtime, where the Predators were able to get their line matchups with the last change. For a team that was really struggling on the road to keep up with the speed of the Hurricanes, getting that last change made a big difference.
All the same, the team absolutely fed off the energy of the home crowd. There really isn’t anything like playoff hockey in Nashville when the Predators are scoring goals. The fans absolutely played a role in the Predators’ energy last night; hopefully that home energy propels the Predators towards victory again tomorrow.
2. Goal Support Came When Needed
Juuse Saros let in a couple of fluky, bad goals last night. While this could have doomed the Predators other nights, the offense finally came through and bailed Saros out.
After getting shut out in Game 2, the Predators’ offense rebounded to the tune of five goals, four in regulation. All five goals were also scored by different Predators, showing that the entire roster was able to find some success against Carolina’s previously staunch defense. The Predators even scored their first power-play goal of the series—albeit on a 5 on 3.
It’s big for the Predators that they seemingly found a way to crack the code of Carolina’s defense. If Saros played as we know he can, there wouldn’t have been overtime yesterday. We know Saros will bounce back; if the offense can produce with more consistency like yesterday, the Predators have a fighting shot in this series.
3. The Power Play Still Needs Work
Yes, the Predators scored a power-play goal during a 5 on 3 last night, but their play at 5 on 4 still needs significant work. It’s been three games now for the Predators without a 5 on 4 goal, which is unacceptable considering how many penalties Carolina has taken this series.
The most frustrating part of watching the power play is how challenging it’s been at times for the Predators to even establish themselves in the offensive zone. The Hurricanes are constantly applying pressure to the Predators along the blue line, forcing pass after pass among them until a turnover is generated. Carolina applies this pressure by cheating excessively forward, gambling that the Predators won’t be able to move the puck into the open ice in the middle of the offensive zone. That game thus far has paid off.
The Predators need to figure out how to exploit this. One solution could be to have Ryan Johansen drift up from by the net more into the upper slot. Another could be for the Predators to try and catch Carolina by surprise and have Tolvanen drift in towards the net to create a 3 on 2 advantage for a long, low shot that can generate a rebound. Whatever anjustments that the Predators make, they need to make them sooner rather than later.
State of the Series
The Predators finally claimed their first win of the series. However, to think that the Predators are fully loaded to rebound and win another three games against Carolina would be overeager. The power play still needs to find a way to score at 5 on 4, and Carolina has demonstrated the ability to score in every game this series while the Predators’ offense just came alive last night.
The Predators need to bring that consistency into Game 4 on Sunday to demonstrate that they belong in this series. It’s what they have lacked all season and, honestly, since mid-2019.
However, the most encouraging element of the Predators’ play thus far has been their compete level. Since the 2017 Stanley Cup Finals run, the Predators have looked a bit lost mentally on the ice. However, with new young blood on the roster, even older Predators are looking rejuvenated. Ryan Johansen was throwing his body around in the corners last night like he was checking Jonathan Toews again. The team responded when faced with adversity. That hasn’t happened much the past few seasons, and it just feels good to see the team carry that chip on their shoulder.
Lastly, paired with Roman Josi, Alexandre Carrier was so incredibly impressive last night. Playing in his first home playoff game, Carrier did a remarkable job facilitating puck movement throughout the neutral zone. For as bad as the passing was as a team for the first two games, Carrier’s passing last night was spotless. It’s very easy to point to the old guard of Josi, Ryan Ellis, and Mattias Ekholm and praise them for a great game, but it needs to be noted how at home and natural Carrier looked playing next to Josi. It was a remarkable evening for the young defender and, judging how comfortable he looked, there should be many more in his future.