The Nashville Predators took on the Carolina Hurricanes yet again in game four of their playoff matchup. What were the storylines, who stood out, and where will the series go from here? All that and more below.
Within the opening two minutes, the Predators had two golden chances, both on the stick of Luke Kunin. One of them found the back of the net 57 seconds in, and the other went just wide.
After that, though, Nashville’s pulse dwindled aside from the occasional odd man rush. The Hurricanes mixed it up with the Preds and both teams sat a man (Nino Niederreiter and Ben Harpur), but aside from that the momentum was significantly in Carolina’s favor. Another two Predators penalties courtesy of Olivier and Sissons assisted in the lopsided shot totals exiting the period, and a brutal defensive breakdown by Harpur thanks to his sluggish skating brought the game even with just over two minutes left.
Threw a changeup and it worked! pic.twitter.com/31IOaUXYWf— Carolina Hurricanes (@Canes) May 23, 2021
The story of the first period was clearly a strange sequence involving a high sticking call with Andrei Svechnikov and Eeli Tolvanen. Tolvanen initially was high sticked by Ekholm and was bleeding from his mouth, then had his stick lifted and was hit in the face at the end of a play with Svechnikov. The play was ruled for no penalties due to the current state of the NHL rule book, which states the following:
From the NHL rule changes in 2019-20— Bryan Bastin (@BryanBastin) May 23, 2021
Why would they let them reduce in every situation BUT double minors? pic.twitter.com/e4pU4TlhI7
Here's the high stick on Eeli Tolvanen. You can tell that Mattias Ekholm's stick gets him initially (and draws blood) but Svechnikov also gets him with a high stick at the end. #Preds pic.twitter.com/qKthJGQ9Nw— AtoZSports Nashville (@AtoZSports) May 23, 2021
The biggest bright spot for Preds was clearly Juuse Saros, who made some furious saves to keep this one close in the early going. Nashville rode their goalie into the first intermission tied and looking to sway things back in their favor.
It was another back and forth affair in the second period, with Nashville playing marginally better. The Hurricanes still held the advantage in power play opportunities thanks to a questionable call on Erik Haula for high sticking (the only penalty of the period), but the penalty killing unit offered another valiant performance to thwart the league’s best man advantage yet again. Just prior to that, Ryan Johansen sent Bridgestone Arena into hysteria with a nice goal off some poor rebound corralling by Nedeljkovic.
After killing the penalty, Nashville had their best series of shifts in the game to that point, punctuating it with a 2-on-1 that was barely stopped by the Carolina goaltender.
Unfortunately, the Canes still dictated the majority of the period and capitalized in the final minutes when Brock McGinn punched a missile past Juuse Saros to tie things up. Saros lost sight of the puck and the placement was perfect; not much that could be done there. Nashville headed into the third period still in this game, but with plenty of possible adversity ahead.
Things didn’t go according to plan early, with Nashville giving up a goal thanks to an Alexandre Carrier turnover just 13 seconds into the period. Brock McGinn continued to haunt Preds fans by burying the opportunity, and it seemed like the series might be finished. Certain Predators supporters evidently thought so:
And that’s the series.— angrypredsfan (@AngryPredsFan) May 23, 2021
Nashville looked dead in the water, at least until a long-awaited penalty call against Carolina gave them a spark (Roman Josi definitely just toe-picked on the tripping call, but whatever). The ensuing opportunity resulted in a beautiful tip for unheralded hero Nick Cousins, tying the game back up.
From then on, it was all Preds. John Hynes clearly helped the team make some adjustments as they began flying through the neutral zone with ease, knocking Carolina back on their heels. There were breakaway attempts and shots aplenty, but the game remained tied to end regulation for the second consecutive outing. Why? Well, Alex Nedeljkovic decided it should.
The rookie goalie made sprawling save after sprawling save, denying the Predators a chance to take the roof off in the dying minutes of the third period. In a game that felt like a long, difficult boxing match, it went the distance yet again.
In yet another period of what can only be described as prizefighters trading blows, Nashville got a fair number of chances. It was thrilling, blitzing ice hockey the entire way, with Calle Jarnkrok, Matt Duchene, and even Erik Haula almost putting the game away. There were many near-highlights, but very little jaw-dropping displays outside of a Duchene spin cycle that almost disintegrated Carolina in front of him. Neither side could get it done in the first bit of extra time, so for the second consecutive game these teams needed a second overtime.
After another arduous, palpably tense overtime 16:10 of overtime, Luke Kunin ended things. The series is tied.
Three Big Things
- Outstanding performance from Juuse Saros yet again, who broke Nashville’s record for saves in a single game (58) and became the second goalie ever to post back to back games with 50 saves in the postseason (Curtis Joseph was the first). He’s the reason this series is relatively close.
- Luke Kunin has been much maligned this year, and for good reason, but tonight he was exactly where he needed to be. Congrats to him for scoring another unforgettable goal in a Nashville uniform in his still young career.
- This series is somehow tied. Celebrate accordingly, folks.
Post Game Tunes
Take it away, Mr. LL Cool J.
See you for game five, everybody. Good night, good hockey, and as always, go Preds.