Meeting for the first time in the post-season, the Carolina Hurricanes and Nashville Predators will begin their first round series of the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs on Monday.
Carolina took the lead in the Central Division, winning its first division title since 2006. They’ll face a Nashville club that has been gaining momentum toward the end of the season, with a 23-12-2 record since February 26 after a rough start landed them on the outside looking in.
The Predators enter the matchup as underdogs, but that’s the way they like it. Ahead of their February shift, Nashville kicked off the year with an 8-11-0 record that put them sixth in the division. They lost their first half dozen against the Hurricanes, before drawing square to win the final two by a combined score of 8-1.
Filip Forsberg may have missed 17 games from March 27 to April 27, but he still put together 32 points in 39 games and has plenty of playoff experience. He’s healthy for the post-season.
But the Hurricanes possess more firepower, starting with Sebastian Aho. He led the squad with 57 points in 56 games and put together 18 points on the power play. Vincent Trocheck also had a brilliant year, amassing 43 points in 47 games. Like Aho, the 27-year-old has 18 points on the man-advantage.
Rod Brind’Amour’s been able to book a one-two punch with his top lines, rolling Trocheck, Nino Niederreiter, and Martin Necas in conjunction with Aho, Andrei Svechnikov, and Teuvo Teravainen.
Carolina’s firepower gives them a potent power play that is perhaps only matched by their slick penalty kill. They’re third overall with an 85.2 percent kill, with just Vegas and Boston posting better numbers short-handed. The Canes saved their best power play and penalty kill for the Predators. They put up a 34.6 percent power play against the Nashville this season and an 88.9 percent PK.
For Nashville, the PK is bowling shoe ugly – to say the least. The Predators landed 29th overall on the kill this season at just 75.4 percent. Their power play isn’t much better at 17.6 percent, a long way off from Carolina’s 25.6 percent PP. Head coach John Hynes and his staff will have a lot on their plate in this series, especially if they can’t stay out of the sin bin.
So, the Predators posted the worst offence among all playoff teams this season and lack special teams cohesion. Are they simply outmatched against Carolina?
But if anything could give Nashville an edge over the Hurricanes, it’s goaltending. The Predators boast a sturdy Juuse Saros between the pipes. He went 21-11-1 this season, collecting 16 of those wins after returning March 18 from a lower body injury. He posted a 2.28 goals against average, with a .927 save percentage in 35 starts.
Carolina has a rock-solid assortment of goaltenders because of course they do. Petr Mrazek, Alex Nedeljkovic, and James Reimer are all on tap, giving them an embarrassment of riches at the position. Mrazek is the veteran, but Nedeljkovic posted 15 wins in 23 starts to go with a 1.90 goals against average and a .932 save percentage.
So, the question remains: does Nashville stand a chance?
The Hurricanes are one of the deepest and most potent teams in the league. They stand every chance at running the table this post-season. They are well-coached and shine on special teams, plus they’ve got a plethora of goaltending options. In just about every way, they have the edge.
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