The Carolina Hurricanes (36-12-8) narrowly missed the President’s Trophy for the most wins in the regular season, thanks to losses in their final two games against their first round opponent, the Nashville Predators (31-23-2).
Few teams are as hot entering the playoffs as the Predators, who went 19-7-1 since March 15 to clinch the final playoff spot in the Central Division. On the other end of the ice, Carolina went 7-0-3 before losing those last two games in Nashville.
In this Hurricanes vs Predators series preview, I’ll break down all you need to know before Carolina and Nashville take the ice, along with a winning pick for who will advance in the 2021 NHL Playoffs.
Hurricanes vs Predators Series Schedule
GAME ONE: Monday, May 17, 8:00 P.M.
GAME TWO: Wednesday, May 19, 8:00 P.M.
GAME THREE: Friday, May 21, 7:00 P.M.
GAME FOUR: Sunday, May 23, TBD
GAME FIVE*: Tuesday, May 25, TBD
GAME SIX*: Thursday, May 27, TBD
GAME SEVEN*: Saturday, May 29, TBD
* = if needed, all times Eastern
Hurricanes vs Predators Regular Season Results
January 18: Hurricanes 4, Predators 2
March 2: Hurricanes 4, Predators 2
March 9: Hurricanes 3, Predators 2 (OT)
March 11: Hurricanes 5, Predators 1
April 15: Hurricanes 4, Predators 1
April 17: Hurricanes 3, Predators 1
May 8: Predators 3, Hurricanes 1
May 10: Predators 5, Hurricanes 0
Petr Mrazek: 6-2-3, 2.06 GAA, .923 save percentage, three shutouts
Alex Nedeljkovic: 15-5-3, 1.90 GAA, .932 save percentage, three shutouts
James Reimer: 15-5-2, 2.66 GAA, .906 save percentage
Juuse Saros: 21-11-1, 2.28 GAA, .927 save percentage, three shutouts
Pekka Rinne: 10-12-1, 2.84 GAA, .907 save percentage, two shutouts
Brock McGinn – upper body, expected return: May 17
Cedric Paquette – undisclosed, expected return: May 17
Jaccob Slavin – lower body, expected return: May 17
Mark Borowiecki – upper body, expected return: May 17
Viktor Arvidsson – undisclosed, expected return: May 17
Special Teams Stats
Power Play: 25.6% (42/164), second in NHL, six shorthanded goals against
Penalty Kill: 85.2% (150/176), third in NHL, seven shorthanded goals
Power Play: 17.6% (28/159), 23rd in NHL, two shorthanded goals against
Penalty Kill: 75.4% (129/171), 29th in NHL, six shorthanded goals
Hurricanes vs Predators Storylines
The biggest story for both clubs is the matchup between the pipes. Neither team has formally announced a Game One starter; while it will almost certainly be Juuse Saros for Nashville, Pekka Rinne could see ice time at some point in the series as well, especially if things go sour early.
On the other bench, the Hurricanes could truly go either way between Petr Mrazek and Alex Nedeljkovic. Mrazek missed time with a thumb injury which required surgery, allowing Nedeljkovic to step in and shine. While James Reimer is a capable netminder as well, he is clearly the third horse in the race behind Mrazek and Nedeljkovic.
I would expect Reimer to be the Game One starter, but having that kind of goaltending depth only works in Carolina’s favor.
The Hurricanes have made the playoffs each of the past two seasons, advancing to the Eastern Conference Finals in 2019 and losing in the first round (following the qualifying round) in 2020. Nashville has made it each of the last six seasons, but as a Western Conference team, this is their first (and likely only) playoff series against Carolina that won’t be a Stanley Cup final.
This is likely the final season for Rinne, who is 24th on the all-time goaltender playoff games played list with 89. His career postseason line reads: 45-44-0, 2.49 GAA, .914 save percentage, five shutouts.
Filip Forsberg led the Predators in points this season with 12 goals and 20 assists. He is also the Predators’ all-time leading playoff scorer with 26 goals and 23 assists in 65 games. If Nashville is going to advance, they will need their depth players to step up.
Eight different Carolina skaters scored at least 10 goals this season, and they aren’t necessarily the ones you would expect. While Sebastian Aho’s 24 led the way, right on his heels were Nino Niederreiter (20) and Vincent Trocheck (17). Rounding out the list were Jordan Staal (16), Andrei Svechnikov (15), Martin Necas (14), and Warren Foegele (10).
Defenseman Dougie Hamilton also had 10 goals, along with 32 assists. Hamilton finished seventh among defensemen with 42 points.
The Hurricanes have so many matchup advantages, this series on paper doesn’t seem like it should be close. Beyond the power play stats above, Carolina holds the edge in goals per game (3.13 to 2.70), fewer goals against per game (Carolina – 2.36, Nashville 2.75), more shots per game (32 to 30), fewer shots against (Carolina 28.2, Nashville 31.3), etc.
However, the Predators got to this point by playing well. If we see second-half Nashville, this series could be competitive. But if we see the Predators who played the first half of the season and were 0-for-6 against Carolina until the final two games of the season, Nashville will be a quick out.
I’m inclined to believe Carolina comes out on top and makes quick work of the Predators. While I think Nashville will get one at home (in an always loud Bridgestone Arena), I’m taking the Hurricanes to advance.
SERIES PREDICTION: Carolina Hurricanes in five games.
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