Game 2: Nashville Predators 0, Carolina Hurricanes 3: Lackluster special teams doom Preds

Nashville can’t convert on a myriad of power play chances and Carolina walks away with win number two.

After a 5-2 loss in Game 1 against the Carolina Hurricanes, the Nashville Predators took the ice once again at PNC Arena to battle a staunch Carolina team in their first round series. The Game 1 loss sparked a strong response from fans to the Monday night lineup—especially the absence of Eeli Tolvanen, the Preds’ leading goalscorer on the power play. Head Coach John Hynes was clear before the start of the series that the lineups would vary game to game, and he was true to his word tonight.

Out of the line up for Game 2 were forwards Matthieu Olivier and Calle Järnkrok (illness, non-COVID-related) and defender Ben Harpur. Subbing in were Tolvanen and Brad Richardson, with Matt Benning slotting into the third defenseive pairing. Carolina had one noteable change in their lineup—defender Jaccob Slavin was out, replaced by Jacob Gardiner. Juuse Saros and Alex Nedeljkovic returned between the pipes for their respective teams.

With less-than-stellar performances from core Preds on Monday night, tonight’s game was a chance for them to rebound and get back to the type of play that helped a Predators team that struggled early earn their way into the playoffs late. Could the Predators snatch a win from a tough Hurricanes team on the road in Game 2? Read on and find out.

First Period

The Herd Line of Colton Sissons, Yakov Trenin, and Tanner Jeannot, along with Carrier and Josi on defense, started the game for the Predators. The first real chance of the game belonged to Martin Necas, and while he didn’t score on Saros, Necas did draw a roughing penalty on crowd-least-favorite Erik Haula at 2:02. Despite the strong Hurricanes power play threat, the Predators were able to survive the two minutes Haula spent in the sin bin, and the teams returned to five a side.

The fast and physical game resulted in a hit on Roman Josi in the offensive zone that didn’t draw a whistle (and fortunately didn’t send Josi down the tunnel), but did draw the ire of the Predators’ captain. At 7:17 a battling Mattias Ekholm was called for tripping and headed to the penalty box while the Canes headed back on the power play. Playing with fire often results in burns, and at 8:03 Sebastian Aho singed Saros with a quick shot for the first goal of the game. Carolina up 1-0.

The Aho goal seemed to rock the Predators for the next half minute, but the guys in gold quickly caught a break as Matt Benning caught a glove and stick to the face from Vincent Trocheck. The Predators went on the power play with the returning Eeli Tolvanen. The first unit was able to pepper Nedeljkovic, but couldn’t find the back of the net. The second unit didn’t have as many chances in the offensive zone. Despite a great-looking power play with the first unit, the Preds didn’t capitalize on the opportunity.

Shoutout to Mattias Ekholm, who earned style points but not a goal with some terrific skating and puck handling in the slot. As the Preds fought for the rebound on that shot, Dougie Hamilton throat-tackled Viktor Arvidsson at 13:04, giving the Predators another chance with a skater advantage. The first chance on the power play belonged to Carolina on a two on one that looked like a sure second goal for the Canes, but Juuse Saros pulled out one of his superhuman saves that dragged the team into the playoffs to begin with. The Preds threatened briefly, but again missed a chance to capitalize with a goal.

The hockey gods and Sebastian Aho’s throat punch on Erik “41 Games in Carolina Too Many” Haula earned the Preds another chance on the power play at 15:59. Yet again, the Predators weren’t able to even the score on the man advantage. Haula continued what surely were love poem recitations towards the Canes bench.

Clearly not afraid of the Predators’ power play, Jordan Staal tackled Colton Sissons and earned himself a snack break in the sin bin at 19:03. A confident penalty kill stumped the Predators, who headed into the locker room with a minute left on the man advantage and down one goal.

Second Period

The Predators started the second period with a minute remaining on the power play. The sound of failure (puck hitting the post) rang out on a shot from the blue line, but the power play ended with no benefit for the Preds.

The Hurricanes played the early minutes following the power play with the offensive and momentum advantage, but failed to convert that energy into another goal. After a Benning shot was snatched up by Nedeljkovic, Andrei Svechnikov and Ryan Johansen had a physical “snark off,” resulting in two minute time-outs for each at 4:16. Four-on-four play provided two good chances for the Predators by Carrier and Josi, but again, no lighting of the lamp, and the teams returned to full strength.

The game’s frantic energy and player temperaments continued to ramp up as the period went on. Brett Pesce tried to slow things (and by “things” I mean “Luke Kunin”) down and was called for a holding penalty at 8:34. Yet again, the Predators went up a man. Yet again, the first offensive threat was from the Hurricanes. Fortunately Saros stopped the chance, but Viktor Arvidsson committed interference on the same play, evening the game to four on four for a little under a minute. Four on four play yielded no clear advantage for either team, and Nashville played aggressively on the remaining Carolina power play, ending the man advantage.

Just when you think either team cannot possibly maintain the intensity level, an MMA match broke out between Matt Benning and Jordan Martinook at 12:03. While Benning clearly would have won in the octagon, both players headed off the rink and into the box for roughing. Neither team was able to break through on four on four play, proving yet again that some nights special teams can be...painfully ordinary.

The ref’s arm shot up like a brown-nosing valedictorian in history class again at 16:37 for a hooking penalty committed by Nino Niederreiter. They say the sixth time is the charm on the power play. “They” lied. Carolina had several scoring opportunities on their kill this time as well, but neither team benefitted from Niederreiter’s time in the box. The period ended exactly as the first did: Carolina up 1-0.

Third Period

Matt Duchene started the period off with a shot on Nedeljkovic from the side less than a minute in, but still the Predators couldn’t punch the puck through. Juuse Saros tracked a redirected shot that had the Canes crowd on their feet and sent it away from the net with a kick save.

The Predators continued to keep the frazzled pace of the game. Duchene, Granlund, and Tolvanen put extended pressure on Nedeljkovic about five minutes into the period. The Predators had what looked like a sure thing on a low to high pass to Kunin as he entered the zone, but the Canes’ goalie locked down the puck. Nashville intensified their offensive pressure and began pulling the game momentum an inch in their favor.

A playoff-Johansen pass led a streaking Ekholm to the Canes net, but rock-solid Nedeljkovic prevented the score. An attempt by Warren Foegele to clear the puck sailed over the glass and put the Preds back on the power play with the delay-of -game call. The first unit fired at Nedeljkovic like rednecks with empty beer cans on a Saturday night, but... I almost can’t even type it again...didn’t convert. Sebastian Aho tried to stick it to the Preds shorthanded, but Saros refused. Power play number ??? netted nothing.

The Predators struggled to control the puck (and thus the game) with less than ten minutes to go in the game. Saros continued to save the team’s bacon, holding firm in goal when faced with shots from Carolina.

The final five minutes produced gastrointestinal distress and more chances for the Hurricanes, but the Predators continued to press. The Predators’ passing did them no favors  as time ticked down. With two minutes left, Juuse Saros headed to the bench adding an extra attacker for Nashville. But just like in the previous 58 minutes, a man advantage didn’t benefit the Predators. Sebastian Aho beat an icing call and scored an empty net goal at 19:07. Adding insult to injury, Jordan Staal slid another goal past the returning Juuse Saros at 19:32.

The ONE Big Thing:

(Because really...there is ONE big takeaway from this game.)

  1. Special teams must actually be...special. Two minutes with an opponent in the penalty box is no advantage if the Predators can’t convert. The result of seven power plays tonight? Fourteen minutes of better-rested Hurricanes. Goaltending was worthy of a win (minus that last goal we are pretending didn’t happen), the Preds matched the intensity of the Canes, and there were good looks on 5 v 5. Seven chances on the power play and no goals? That’s how you lose games.

After a frustrating loss in Raleigh, the Predators head home where they will battle the Hurricanes at Bridgestone Arena for Game 3 of the series on Friday at 6:00 PM.