The 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs kicked off this weekend. Last Word On Hockey will have previews, analysis, and recaps for all the series so be sure to check those out. The Carolina Hurricanes vs Nashville Predators kick off their series Monday night in the Central Division. We will take a deep look at the matchup, forwards, defence, and goaltending on both sides to determine who has the advantage.
Carolina Hurricanes vs Nashville Predators
The Carolina Hurricanes (36-12-8) won six of the eight games this season vs the Nashville Predators (31-23-2) on their way to a third-place finish in the NHL standings. Interesting to note that the Hurricanes won the first six games, outscoring the Preds 23 to 9. Then lost the last two by a score of 8-1. It can be argued that the Canes didn’t have much to play for (other than the President’s Trophy). Still, you have to think that Nashville will have just a bit more swagger coming into this series now.
The Hurricanes ranked 11th in the NHL in goals per game this season (3.13) led by Sebastian Aho (24 goals, 33 assists). Aho, paired with Nino Niederreiter (20 goals, 14 assists) and Teuvo Teravainen ( five goals, 10 assists in 21 games) make a formidable top line. But this is more than a one-line show. Warren Foegele (10 goals, 10 assists), Vincent Trocheck (17 goals, 26 assists) and Martin Necas (14 goals 27 assists) are exceptional second unit. Then there is Andrei Svechnikov (15 goals, 27 assists), Jordan Staal (16 goals, 22 assists), and Jesper Fast (six goals, 13 assists). Carolina is deep and comes at you in waves.
The Predators ranked just 21st in goals per game (2.70), but they just might be getting healthy at the right time. Filip Forsberg ( 12 goals, 20 assists) missed 17 games this season. Matt Duchene (6 goals, 7 assists) missed 22 games as well. Paired with Ryan Johansen ( 7 goals, 15 assists) in the middle this top unit is a dangerous one when healthy. It gets a little thin after that, especially if Viktor Arvidsson (10 goals, 15 assists)cannot come back. He has been out since April 27th with an undisclosed injury. Calle Jarnkrok (13 goals, 15 assists) and Mikael Granlund (13 goals, 14 assists) add some balance, but they will need someone to step up to compete in this series.
Advantage: Carolina Hurricanes.
Carolina was one of the best defensive teams in the NHL finishing third in goals against per game (2.39). Jaccob Slavin led the team in average ice time (22 minutes 59 seconds) but not by much. Dougie Hamilton (22:43) and Brett Pesce (22:48) both logged big minutes and were impressive all year. And Brady Skjei ate up 20:44 in ice time per game as well. It’s a great group that can not only get it done defensively, but they can also produce on the offensive side. The Hurricanes enjoyed 24 goals from their defence, led by Hamilton (10 goals).
Nashville’s strength lies in their defence. Roman Josi led the team in scoring (eight goals, 25 assists) despite missing eight games. Mattias Ekholm (6 goals and 17 assists) was a top trade deadline target until the Predators started winning. And don’t forget about Ryan Ellis (five goals, 13 assists) who missed 21 games this year. Young Dante Fabbro( two goals, 10 assists in 40 games) has also impressed down the stretch. This team will go as far as these soldiers in the back can take them. They are healthy and can frustrate any team when they are on top of their game.
Most playoff series come down to goaltending, and no series will the goaltending battle be more prevalent than in this series. The Hurricanes use a three-headed monster for in goal for the season. To start the season Carolina expected Petr Mrazek to be the main starter. Injuries limited him to just 12 games, but he went 6-2-3 with three shutouts. He also posted a 2.06 goals-against average and a .923 save percentage. James Reimer was excellent in relief going 15-5-2 with 2.66 goals against and a .906 save percentage. The real surprise was Alex Nedeljkovic who went 13-5-3 and a stellar 1.90 goals-against average and .932 save percentage. Reimer will be the odd man out. But whoever coach Rob Brind’Amour decides to start between Mrazek and Nedeljkovic, they will be given a short leash. The hot hand will rule, and it is a good problem to have.
The Nashville Predators went from sellers to buyers prior to the trade deadline largely due to their own goaltending. Juuse Saros carried the team for large stretches going 21-11-1 with 2.28 goals against and a .927 save percentage. Veteran goalie Pekka Rinne is more than capable of stealing games, but this net belongs to Saros and they will go as far as he is able to take them.
Advantage Carolina Hurricanes
Who will win?
On paper, this series looks like a huge mismatch of teams on opposite ends of some key categories, especially special teams. The Hurricanes owned the second-best powerplay in the NHL firing at 25.6 percent. They also own the third-best penalty kill in the league killing 85.2 percent of the shorthanded situations. The Predators struggled on special teams all year long finishing 29th in penalty killing at a dismal 75.4 percent. Their powerplay was not much better logging in at 24th and 17.6 percent. A major advantage to Carolina.
It is hard to ignore these differences and despite Nashville’s formidable defence and talent in net Carolina is equal or better to them in all categories. It won’t be a sweep and expect some low-scoring battles. Nevertheless, the Hurricanes should cruise to a comfortable series win to advance to the next round. There they will face the winner of the Florida Panthers and Tampa Bay Lightning.
Prediction: Hurricanes in 5
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