In a series that most NHL fans thought would be perfunctory, the Nashville Predators and Carolina Hurricanes have made for some excellent hockey viewing so far. While the Hurricanes took a 2-0 lead in the series, the Predators kept Games 1 and 2 interesting until the end, and then flipped the script to claw their way to two home victories. A first-round series widely thought to be a mere formality suddenly heads to Game 5 in Raleigh, and both teams are desperate for this win. What could help decide who leaves PNC Arena with the victory?
A Few Good Men
Both Carolina and Nashville have had to make difficult lineup decisions this series—some due to injury, some due to performance. Carolina’s Jaccob Slavin has been out since game 1. Defender Jake Gardiner filled in in Game 2, while Maxime Lajoie got the nod in games 3 and 4. Slavin was on the ice for morning skate and his return to the lineup tonight would not be surprising or unwelcome for Carolina.
Meanwhile, lineup decisions have been a hot topic in Nashville in the series, and tonight’s game will be no exception. Fans lamented the missing Eeli Tolvanen early in the series, and in Game 4 both Viktor Arvidsson and Tanner Jeannot’s absences caused a rumbling in the Preds Twitterverse. Head Coach John Hynes is likely to stick to a similar roster to Game 4, with perhaps the substitution of Jeannot back in on the fourth line. If Arvidsson is not 100%, he will miss Game 5.
Five Easy Pieces
Special teams has been a storyline so far in this series, and it is likely to remain so until the end. Carolina entered the playoffs with the second-best power play percentage in the league, but went 0-4 with the man advantage in Game 4. It isn’t that the Hurricanes didn’t have chances—they set up and peppered Juuse Saros with shots with those four opportunities, but still couldn’t convert.
The Predators’ power play has been hotly discussed and dissected all season, and has only been able to net two power play goals so far this series despite what some in Carolina have called unbalanced reffing. While special teams adjustments have helped the Preds at least set up in the offensive zone more effectively on their man advantage, scoring on the power play could be the difference in another tightly contested game.
At some point two minutes in the sin bin are going to cost one team or another a game. If Carolina breaks through and recaptures their special teams magic from the regular season, it could make for a long night for the Predators. However, if Nashville can stay out of the box or kill any penalties as well tonight as they did in Game 4, it will be a momentum boost for the Preds.
As Good As It Gets
There may not be much that Canes and Preds fans can agree on, but surely one thing is that goalies Alex Nedeljkovic and Juuse Saros have both played superb hockey. Nedeljkovic has stymied the Predators’ shooters, resulting in a .928 playoff save percentage. Without a doubt, Juuse Saros has been the antidote to an easy Canes series win, keeping the Predators in each of the four games so far with a .929 playoff save percentage. Saros recorded a franchise-record 58 saves in Game 4’s double OT nail biter.
While both of the netminders have to be feeling the strain of the series, it is unlikely either will take a rest day today. Goaltending again tonight will likely decide the outcome of Game 5.
Ride in the Whirlwind
This Canes/Preds series has been a brawl on ice, and tonight’s game will continue to be physical. While the Predators may not have the speed of the Hurricanes roster, their physicality along the boards and in front of the net could tip the game in Nashville’s favor if they can maintain 60 minutes (or more) of pressure. The Predators need to contain the Svechnikov-Aho-Teräväinen line offensively and top-shelf the puck past Nedeljkovic. If they do that, they may be able to weather the storm in Raleigh.
The Bucket List
The mental toll of the double overtime games weighs on these two teams differently right now. How Carolina responds to leaving Tennessee with two losses will be a factor in tonight’s matchup. Coach Hynes and Carolina Head Coach Rod Brind’Amour will have to call on the mental toughness of their respective teams coming into this game from the thrill of victory or the agony of defeat.
How to Watch
You can watch Game 5 on BallySports or CNBC, or listen at 102.5 The Game. Puck drop is scheduled for 7:00 PM CST.