Before the season began, I predicted Hurricanes vs Lightning would be a second round matchup. While I didn’t get the overall seeding exactly right, it still feels pretty good to have seen that matchup coming months in advance.
In my mind, this is the best second round matchup, and not to discredit the other teams, but I don’t think it’s particularly close. The Lightning and Hurricanes each took four games from the other during the regular season. Each team went 3-1 at home. Three games were decided by one goal, while another became a two-goal win on an empty-netter with 40 seconds left. Carolina scored one more goal over those eight games than Tampa Bay. There isn’t much separating these teams.
In this Hurricanes vs Lightning series preview, I’ll break down all you need to know before Carolina and Tampa Bay take the ice, along with a winning pick for who will advance in the 2021 NHL Playoffs.
Hurricanes vs Lightning Series Schedule
GAME ONE: Sunday, May 30, 5:00 P.M.
GAME TWO: Tuesday, June 1, 7:30 P.M.
GAME THREE: Thursday, June 3, 8:00 P.M.
GAME FOUR: Saturday, June 5, 4:00 P.M.
GAME FIVE*: Tuesday, June 8, TBD
GAME SIX*: Thursday, June 10, TBD
GAME SEVEN*: Saturday, June 12, TBD
* = if needed, all times Eastern
Hurricanes vs Lightning Regular Season Results
January 28: Hurricanes 1, Lightning 0 (OT)
February 20: Hurricanes 4, Lightning 0
February 22: Lightning 4, Hurricanes 2
February 24: Lightning 3, Hurricanes 0
February 25: Lightning 3, Hurricanes 1
March 27: Hurricanes 4, Lightning 3
April 19: Lightning 3, Hurricanes 2 (OT)
April 20: Hurricanes 4, Lightning 2
Alex Nedeljkovic: 4-0-2, 2.22 GAA, .922 save percentage, one shutout (regular season: 15-5-3, 1.90 GAA, .932 save percentage, three shutouts)
Petr Mrazek: No Playoff Stats, (regular season: 6-2-3, 2.06 GAA, .923 save percentage, three shutouts)
James Reimer: No Playoff Stats, (regular season: 15-5-2, 2.66 GAA, .906 save percentage)
Andrei Vasilevskiy: 4-1-1, 2.64 GAA, .929 save percentage, one shutout (regular season: 31-10-1, 2.21 GAA, .925 save percentage, five shutouts)
Curtis McElhinney: No Playoff Stats, (regular season: 4-6-2, 3.09 GAA, .875 save percentage, one shutout)
No injuries keeping players out at the start of the series.
No injuries keeping players out at the start of the series.
Power Play: 21.1% (4/19), eighth in playoffs, (regular season: 25.6%, second in NHL)
Penalty Kill: 88.5% (23/26), second in playoffs, (regular season: 85.2%, third in NHL)
Power Play: 40.0% (8/20), second in playoffs, (regular season: 22.2%, ninth in NHL)
Penalty Kill: 72.7% (16.22), 13th in playoffs, (regular season: 84.2%, fourth in NHL)
Hurricanes vs Lightning Storylines
One of the biggest factors in the series will be the fans in the stands. We already saw raucousness in the first round, but the Hurricanes announced an attendance capacity of 16,299 for Games One and Two. They will be the highest-attended Hurricanes games of the season, and after no fans in the stands during last season’s playoffs and most of this season, the noise will be deafening. Tampa Bay is expected to have 13,500 fans for the second round.
Special teams play could be another key component. Tampa Bay’s eight power play goals lead all playoff teams. This could spell trouble for Carolina, whose 26 times shorthanded is more than any other playoff team. However, the Canes’ PK unit has been effective, killing penalties at the second-highest rate of any playoff team. Tampa Bay has been shorthanded the second-most times at 22.
Getting a healthy Nikita Kucherov back in the lineup is huge for the Lightning. Kucherov led the Bolts in regular season points for five straight seasons until missing all of the 2021 regular season after undergoing hip surgery. Since his return, Kucherov has three goals and eight assists in six games, leading all scores in playoff points. Seven of those 11 points came on the power play.
Sebastian Aho has been clutch for Carolina so far, leading the team with five goals, two of which were game-winners. Against the Lightning in the regular season, Aho scored two goals and four assists, tied for his lowest point production against any opponent.
Eight Hurricanes skaters scored at least 10 regular season goals, including defenseman Dougie Hamilton, who scored late in the third period of Game Six to force overtime.
This is the first time the Hurricanes and Lightning have ever met in the playoffs. Each team won a Stanley Cup to bookend the 2004-05 lockout (Tampa Bay won in 2004, Carolina in 2006). During Carolina’s 2006 run, they were led by rookie goaltender Cam Ward. They are once again led by a rookie goaltender this year in Alex Nedeljkovic.
Nine different Hurricanes skaters have three or more playoff points, the most of any team other than Tampa Bay, who has 11 such skaters.
First and foremost, I fully expect this series to go a full seven games. Carolina and Tampa Bay match up so well against each other that anything less would be a miscarriage of hockey justice and shorting the fans of hockey at its finest.
That said, I think with Game Seven at home for Carolina, they take the series in seven games. If Game Seven were in Tampa Bay, I’d probably pick them to win instead. However, I won’t be surprised AT ALL if the Lightning win this series. Tampa Bay has a nearly identical roster to the team they won the Cup with a year ago, and they’ve certainly shown the offensive and goaltending punch to win the Cup this year too.
However, I think Carolina’s team defense, especially from their blueliners, will tip the scales. Jaccob Slavin and Brett Pesce are a formidable shutdown tandem, Dougie Hamilton is a constant threat to score while excellent in his own end, while Jani Hakanpaa is a hitting machine who will wear down Tampa Bay’s forwards.
I tend to think there will be at least two, perhaps three overtime games in this series, and I’m planning to watch every minute of it. But sticking to my preseason prediction, Carolina comes out on top.
SERIES PREDICTION: Carolina Hurricanes in Seven Games
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