Cary, NC — The Nashville Predators needed to, and did, play like their playoff chances were at stake. If they win, they’re in. Well, they did just that on Sunday night, led by Luke Kunin’s 2 goals to beat the Hurricanes 3-1.
Game 1: Canes’ 9-Game Point Streak Ends in 3-1 Loss
The official attendance figure was not announced, but the Bridgestone Arena appeared to be at least 75% full, which was great to see and no doubt had an influence on getting the home team even more psyched for the game. With any luck, common sense among fans, government officials and the NHL, PNC Arena will allow more than 4,987 fans for the playoffs.
On Saturday the NHL announced that teams who have been 85% vaccinated can have teams get back some sort of normalcy. That would include loosened restrictions on indoor and outdoor dining, testing frequency and mask-wearing and quarantine requirements. Adding fans is more complicated as that falls between NHL protocols which are fairly strict but more so on state guidelines, which don’t necessarily follow the science.
Predators Open Scoring
The Predators stepped on the gas during the warmups and didn’t let up until the final buzzer.
The fans certainly added that extra energy and desire for getting the playoff spot that night, but if it came down to the last game, those Smashville fans could be stealing a moniker from the Caniacs and be the loudest house in the NHL this season. Speak of fighting words! But how great for hockey.
Keeping the Canes with shots below 10 in a period is tough as they’re constantly in the top 5 teams for shots on goal, but stopping the Canes for 3 periods in a game says a lot about the forechecking and quickness of the Predators.
Alex Nedelkovic was in goal, sporting his 2-0 record against the Preds this season. In fact, up until this game, the Canes were a perfect 6-0.
Rod Brind’Amour has said all season long, it would be highly unusual if a team won every game against an opponent and that every game has to be played to win that game. No resting on laurels or thinking a game goes into the W column just by showing up. That’s surely not what happened in this game.
Both teams showed up, but the Predators had that 1% more and were making life just miserable for the Canes, sacrificing bodies on shots blocking a game-high 16 to just 6 for the Canes. The biggest concern for Roddy was when Jaccob Slavin was held out of the game after the first as he “tweaked something,” resulting in a lower-body injury. Roddy is hopeful it’s nothing serious and if there’s any chance Slavo can go, he’ll be in the lineup for the last game on Monday.
Warren Foegele, for tripping, and Andrei Svechnikov, for roughing, had penalties in the first with the PK killing off both. Svech’s penalty was a retaliation takedown after he was slashed with the refs all too often only calling the retaliation penalty.
Later in the period, the Canes had their only powerplay of the game when Yakov Trenin hit Brady Skjei’s head into the glass that, somehow, was only a 2-minute penalty. The closest the Canes came to scoring was when Nino Niederreiter beat Juuse Soras and banged a shot off the post.
Nedelkovic Keeps Canes In The Game
With Slavo out, the rest of the Canes defense had to step up. In a surprise move, Jake Bean logged the most ice time, 23:37, and it was also the most he’s played in an NHL game in his young career.
Missing Slavo was huge as he does so many things that go unnoticed (never unnoticed by Brind’Amour), making extremely difficult plays seem simple. Remember this is a guy logging huge minutes every game and only has 2 penalty minutes all season. That’s unheard of for a shutdown player and he’s a +22 on the season which could be a career season-high.
In the second, it was Ned’s play that kept the Canes in the game. The Canes shot selection didn’t challenge Soras as much as the Preds challenged Ned.
In the 13th minute, the Preds got the first goal of the game. Mattias Ekholm cleared the puck from his end up to Mikael Granlund just north of the Canes’ blue line along the near side. Granlund handled the puck into the Canes end, going toward the center, saw Kunin cutting down the middle and backhanded a pass over Sebastian Aho’s stick. With a step on Skjei, Kunin, with speed, flipped a backhand shot over Ned’s shoulder to break the scoreless tie.
Vincent Trocheck was active all game, banging bodies, making slick passes and possibly leading the Canes in chirping all game. He also had the only penalty of the period, with tripping Colton Sissons that Troch gave an “aw, come on” to the refs with a big smile. The Canes PK unit, led by Ned, was perfect on the night going 3-for-3 to keep the Canes in the game.
Geekie Gets Canes On The Board
Jordan Staal won the opening faceoff of the period for the third time in the game, trying to jump-start the Canes to get on the score sheet.
After a quick play stoppage, the teams changed lines with the Canes sending their first line on the ice. Fishy got the puck deep that Svech picked up, went across the low slot area and was in a position that most players would think they were past the point of a decent shot — but Svech got off a slick backhander that Soras hit with his blocker.
At the 7:41 mark, Kunin got his second of the game, putting the Canes in a hole. Dougie Hamilton flung the puck deep into the Preds end with Soras stopping the puck behind his net and passing up to Ryan Ellis along the near boards. On a set play, Ellis threw a 100’ pass to Granlund in front of his bench at the Canes’ blue line.
Granlund had Jani Hakanpaa to go through, but simply touched the puck to Kunin who was racing down the middle all alone, going in on Ned and flicking a wrister in for his second of the game and a hard 2-0 Predators lead.
A minute and a half later Roddy had the fourth line on the ice to spark the needed energy. Max McCormick had the puck along the near half-boards when he attempted a hard wrister to the goal. His stick broke with the blade having a better chance of going in than the puck but Steve Lorentz was quick on snaring the puck. Lorie put the puck on his stick, faking to go through the slot, and flipped a backhander down to Morgan Geekie. Geeks was camped out to Soras’ right on the goal line.
Quickly settling the puck, Geekie flipped one up high, hitting the inside top of the net to get the Canes on the board.
The refs let the boys play the entire third period without calling any penalty. That’s not to say no penalties occurred — just they weren’t called and there’s a good chance the players preferred it that way.
Canes v. Preds Matchup is Set for Playoffs Round 1
The Preds did a great job frustrating the Canes and limiting Class A shots. With 1:03 left in the game, former Cane Erik Haula made a 115’ shot into the empty net to seal the win and get the Predators into the playoffs.
The Canes and Predators will be opponents for the first round, meaning these two teams will play at least 6 straight games against each other with a possibility of 9. This game got real chippy after the first, imagine going at each other for maybe 8 more.
With Vegas winning the same night, the Canes are in a must-win position for the last game to have any chance of winning the President’s Trophy as they are now tied with Vegas and they have 2 games remaining.
Game 2: Predators Pummel Depleted Canes
With the game really meaningless, Rod Brind’Amour elected to have several top players sit out the last game and at the same point allow some players who have been nursing injuries the chance “to work off some rust,” which, very evidently, was present.
The Preds kept a few players out themselves but pulled a poetic 5-0 win for Pekka Rinne’s 60th career shutout and good chance in his last game as a Predator.
Canes Dig Hole Early
At the end-of-game press conference, when asked what he got out of this game, Roddy’s quick answer was “flush it.” He didn’t need to add more as that pretty much described how the Canes performed. Nothing was positive, absolutely nothing.
Not that he wins every draw, but with Jordan Staal out, the Canes won only 44% of the faceoffs. Strength, quickness, anticipation, concentration and a dash of luck go into winning faceoffs. As good as Sebastian Aho and Vincent Trocheck are on faceoffs, neither has the strength of Jordo, but give credit to both as their numbers were very respectable. Without either, the Canes could have been as low as winning just 1 in 4 draws.
The Canes had an opportunity to start the game off on a positive note as Tyler Lewington cross-checked Martin Necas well after a whistle as the refs were signaling the game was going to be under their control. After getting off one shot on Rinne and having the puck cleared by the Preds’ defense, Fishy carried the puck along the near boards in the neutral zone. He crossed the blue line in the center then tried to stickhandle between 3 defenders with Tanner Jeannot easily stripping the puck.
Rocco Grimaldi picked up the puck just over his blue line, making a mad dash to the Canes’ net. Jake Gardiner started skating backward to cover Grimaldi but realized he needed to turn to power skate. Too little, too late as Grimaldi blew by Gards and went in on Petr Mrazek alone. He found the blue area of the crease, stopped suddenly, and Mrazek went down for any block. Grimaldi stuffed the puck in short side for a short-handed, eventual game-winning, goal.
It was all downhill for the Canes after that.
A minute and a half later, after a failure to clear the puck from their own end, the Preds forechecking forced a turnover, keeping the puck alive. Matt Duchene won a battle along the far half boards with Ryan Johansen rimming the puck up to Yakov Trenin on the right point. As Trenin settled the puck, Duchene got a step on Jani Hakanpaa, went to the top of the goal crease, got the pass from Trenin, and lifted a sweet backhander past Mrazek for 2 goals on 2 shots for the Predators.
The Canes had 2 other power plays during the first but neither looked very good or tested Rinne.
Nashville Ends 2nd Period with 4-0 Lead
Brind’Amour couldn’t have been happy about the first period but his message might have been to make the game competitive but don’t get hurt. Overall, the Canes only dished out 14 hits with Jordan Martinook getting a game-high 7. Next was Brady Skjei at 3, and playing in his first NHL game, Joey Keane, getting 2.
Doing the math — that means the other 13 skaters only registered 2 hits. Had to be a “don’t get hurt” approach. Early in the second with a delayed penalty call against the Canes, Duchene scored his second with the extra man to make it 3-0, and the game was out of hand for the Canes.
Johansen added a powerplay goal to the score sheet at 12:08 with the only question left being how many would the Preds score as getting the shutout was almost a given.
The Preds had 22 hits for the game, several good solid legal hits, and a few under the cheap shot category with additional cheap shots not called. Right as time ran out in the period, the testosterone from both teams started taking over with several players pairing off. In the end, the Canes wound up with a powerplay to start the third.
“Refuse The Penalty”
With the prime opportunity to at least get on the board, the bad play of the Canes led to the Preds 5th, and yes, another short-handed goal. Almost a deja vu goal to the shortie in the first.
After a bad pass by Necas to Aho, Fishy attempted to knock the puck up to Gards on the left point. Jeannot intercepted the puck, turned on his jets, and blew by Gards to make it a top-shelf goal by Raz for the final goal of the game.
Years ago when the Canes weren’t a very good team, there was one game in which, if I remember correctly, the Canes had 3 short-handed goals against them in one game when late in the game they were awarded another powerplay. What was very memorable was the loud voice of Caniac Big Jim D yelling out, “refuse the penalty, take the down!” that had surrounding Caniacs applauding.
Later in the period, with Max McCormick quickly closing in on Johansen, he flipped the puck over the glass with Maxie quickly raising his arm to help the officials with the proper call. Whether it was the quick text from Jim D to Roddy to “take the down, not the penalty” or if it was just a blown or mercy call by the refs, we’ll never know. But I’m betting on the text.
The Canes will meet the Predators in the first round with the schedule to be released sometime Tuesday. My guess is the first game will be Friday in Raleigh and hopefully, the governor, a big Caniac himself, will allow more fans in the stands. The Predators have already announced they’re going to allow 70% capacity. Their 70% is as loud as the Caniacs at 50% so keep your fingers crossed.
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