Who’s ready for afternoon hockey, y’all?
The Nashville Predators and Carolina Hurricanes face off at Bridgestone Arena this afternoon. It’s Game 4 of their first-round series; the Hurricanes currently have a 2-1 edge despite Nashville winning the last game 5-4 in double overtime.
Let’s get to the big storylines!
Three Things To Watch For
1.) Can The Predators Keep Their Momentum?
When you talk about “momentum” in sports, you can frame it in two different ways. The first, and most common way, is just the standard “who won the last game/got the last goal?”
The second is personal, inter-team momentum. “Did WE play well?” “Did WE make progress?” “Are WE moving in the right direction?”
It’s been quite some time since the Predators owned BOTH types of momentum in a playoff series, but that’s where we are today.
The strategy changes that John Hynes hinted were coming before Game 3 seemed to spark one of the Predators’ best all-around games of the season, much less this series. The power play was one of the areas that was most noticeable. Sure, the Preds needed a 5-on-3 to finally break through, but they clearly generated more dangerous chances in Game 3 with the man advantage (also, not allowing four high-danger chances to the other team while on the power play probably helps that).
Of course, the million-dollar question now becomes: was Friday’s strong outing a one-off fueled by a hyped Bridgestone Arena crowd? Or is it a sign that Hynes has finally unlocked the right combination of personnel and strategy to make this a series?
2.) Can Nashville’s Big Guns Keep Firing?
While lineup decisions on the third line and bottom defensive pair seemed to dominate the conversation after games one and two, they weren’t the reason Nashville dropped the first two games of the series. No, that would be the subpar play of some of the Preds’ most high-profile stars.
The Predators won Game Three because those same stars delivered.
Hynes might have found something in the top-line combo of Filip Forsberg, Ryan Johansen, and Matt Duchene—enough to make you ask why no one had thought of grouping Nashville’s three most dynamic playmakers together before. Each of them found the back of the net Friday, with Duchene’s goal in double overtime being the most prominent.
Game three also featured the Roman Josi-Ryan Ellis pairing’s best overall game in weeks (each had two points), as well as solid performances from the likes of Mikael Granlund, Mattias Ekholm (minus the two ticky-tack penalties), and the guy who appears to be Nashville’s newest defensive mainstay, Alexandre Carrier (whose TOI of 35:01 was second only to Josi’s).
If the Predators want to climb their way back into this series, they’re going to need this continued production from the top of the lineup. Carolina’s top stars are rolling at the moment. Strong performances from Nashville’s may help put this series on even footing.
3.) Is It Carolina’s Turn To Make Changes?
Let’s not let the Predators win on Friday erase the fact that the Hurricanes STILL played a solid game. That being said, when you combine their first loss with the limited recovery time, one has to wonder if Rod Brind’Amour will test his lineup depth.
One of the more interesting decisions will be in goal. And before you turn to the comments section to laugh in my face for suggesting the Canes bench Alex Nedeljkovic, I’m not the one who brought it up. Brind’Amour himself did Saturday (quote from our friends at Canes Country).
On Alex Nedeljkovic starting tomorrow: We haven’t met with him yet. We have a small group going on the ice right now and then we’ll make our decision off of that on kind of who goes in goal. The concern is not his play, but just the mental and physical grind because we really hadn’t given that to our goalies this year. We’ve really spaced it out. So that’s the discussion we’ll have here shortly.
As of this writing, Carolina hasn’t announced a starting goaltender, and thanks to the early start, we may not know the final decision until puck drop. Still, if you’re going to give a goalie with a .936 save percentage in this series a day off, there are certainly worse backup options than Petr Mrazek. The veteran (who has plenty of playoff experience, btw) posted a 6-2-3 record with 3 shutouts and a .923 save percentage in just 12 games this year.
Another question for Carolina is when we’ll see the return of Jaccob Slavin. The defender has missed the past two games due to injury, but is said to basically be a “game-time decision” every gameday until his return. Slavin’s return will provide a big spark in all areas of the Canes’ lineup.
How To Watch
- Puck Drop: 1:30 PM CST
- TV: Bally Sports (Local), NBCSN (National)
- Radio: 102.5 The Game