The Hurricanes will look to close out their first-round series with the Predators on Thursday in Nashville. Up 3-2 in the series, Carolina has not yet won on the road this postseason — all five games have been claimed by the home team.
Here’s your primer for the late-night — 9:45 puck drop! — affair and beyond.
Since the Hurricanes moved to North Carolina, 15 different players have had multiple goals in a playoff game. Four Carolina players have already done it this season. Through five games against Nashville, the Hurricanes have gotten two-goal efforts in every game except Friday’s Game 3.
In Game 1, Jordan Staal scored twice in a Carolina win, followed by two goals from Sebastian Aho in Game 2 — the second time in his career he’s had a two-goal playoff game. In Game 4, Brock McGinn notched two goals, and Martin Necas joined the club with his efforts in Tuesday’s Game 5.
It’s no surprise that 2006 is the gold (goaled?) standard for multigoal playoff games by the Hurricanes. Seven different times during that run Carolina got a two-goal performance, including three by Ray Whitney that all came in different series. Rod Brind’Amour (twice), Cory Stillman and Eric Staal also did it during the Stanley Cup run. The Hurricanes’ record in those games that year was just 4-3, with two overtime losses. Carolina is 3-1 this year when it has a player score twice and 8-2 since Brind’Amour took over as coach.
You have to back to 1999, Carolina’s first playoff appearance since relocation, to find a series in which the Hurricanes got a two-goal game from a player and lost the series. Ray Sheppard scored twice in a Game 2 victory over the Bruins, including the overtime winner, but Carolina lost the series in six games.
Brind’Amour certainly breathed a sigh of relief when Jaccob Slavin suited up for Game 5. The durable defender had missed the previous three games with an undisclosed injury and is still considered day-to-day — and he probably will be for the rest of Carolina’s postseason run.
Brind’Amour has found a way to combat that uncertainty.
“I thought he looked great and played great.” the coach said on Wednesday’s off day. “Going forward, I’m avoiding him. I don’t want to know how he is. I want to make sure he just gets out there. So I don’t want to ask, to be honest with you. He looked great to me and till I hear otherwise, I’m gonna leave him alone.”
Slavin took the morning skate with the Hurricanes on Thursday and Brind’Amour said after the brief practice that “everything seemed fine” and he hoped to have the same lineup as Tuesday’s Game 5.
Let’s talk workload. Through five games, Carolina goaltender Alex Nedeljkovic has player 372:02 minutes and Nashville goalie Juuse Saros has logged 371:06. That’s more than 74 minutes per game for the two goalies. It’s also close to the most ever through five games of a first-round series.
According to NHL.com, only one other goalie has played more minutes through five games: In 1933, Boston’s Tiny Thompson played a staggering 438:26. The first three games of that series against the Maple Leafs were decided in overtime (with Toronto winning twice). The Bruins won in regulation on the road in Game 4 but then lost a heartbreaking 1-0 game in six overtimes to be eliminated.
Ken Doraty scored for the Leafs at 4:46 of the ninth period, ending what was then the longest game in NHL history. The only one longer was on March 24, 1936 — another 1-0 game, this one won by the Red Wings over the Montreal Maroons in Game 1 of their series on a goal by Mud Bruneteau at 16:30 of the sixth overtime. That game had a runtime of 176:30.
The Hurricanes’ fourth line has been scored on twice in each of the last two games, both times allowing the Predators’ first two goals of the game. In Game 4, McGinn balanced the slate with two goals of his own, but Predators fourth-liner Yakov Trenin had a pair of tallies in Game 5 that proved to be all of Nashville’s scoring in the game.
Brind’Amour said his fourth line needs to win its battle Thursday, but no more so than any other line.
“They’re an effective line and so is ours,” the coach said about both teams’ fourth lines on Thursday. “I think everybody has to, whoever you’re getting matched up against, has to win that. That’s just part of it. … I don’t really ever get into looking at it that way, but you’re right in the sense that whoever’s the matchup, I’m sorry, you got to win your battles. That’s it. That’s the game.”
Let’s jump ahead. If Carolina does punch its ticket to the second round, it now knows who it will face next. The Lightning beat the Panthers 4-0 Wednesday to win their series in six games. Despite Florida’s admirable season, it always felt like the road to the NHL’s final four would go through Tampa Bay for the Hurricanes.
Unsurprisingly, the Lightning were led by goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy and winger Nikita Kucherov in their first-round win. Vasilevskiy boasted a .929 save percentage in the six games and closed out the series with a shutout, while Kucherov — playing his first games of the season — led all Tampa Bay scorers with 11 points, seven of which came on the power play.
Speaking of the Lightning’s power play, it converted on 8 of 20 chances in the opening round, a 40% conversion rate. That accounts for a third of Tampa Bay’s goals through six games. Two more were empty-net goals.
One would guess the Lightning wouldn’t have that much success against Carolina’s penalty kill, which finished the regular season ranked third in the league at 85.2% and is behind only perfect Colorado in the postseason with a 90.9% kill rate — and one of the two goals allowed the Hurricanes was at 5-on-3.
Carolina’s effectiveness in slowing down its opposition’s power play is a big reason why it had success all year. The Hurricanes also held the Lightning to just 17 goals (2.13 per game) in the eight regular-season meetings. Tampa Bay was just 3 of 22 on the power play during the regular season against the Hurricanes, and it won the three games in which it scored with a man advantage.
Things could certainly be different with Kucherov in the lineup. The former Hart Trophy winner has 185 regular-season power play points in his career, including 58 goals. But he has only one power play goal — way back in December 2014 — in 19 career games against the Hurricanes to go with six assists.
Kucherov has still gotten his points against Carolina, totaling six goals and 15 assists overall to average more than a point per game. He’s had at least a point-per-game pace against 22 of the league’s 31 teams, so the Hurricanes aren’t alone.