RALEIGH — For the third straight game, it took extra time for the Hurricanes and Predators to settle a game in their first-round series. And for the first time, Carolina came out on top.
Jordan Staal batted a puck out of midair in front of the Nashville goal 2:03 into the first overtime to give the Hurricanes a 3-2 win Tuesday at PNC Arena and put them up by the same tally in the seven-game series.
Martin Necas had Carolina’s other two goals, and Alex Nedeljkovic made 23 saves in the win.
1. As he has done countless times this season, Staal came through when the Hurricanes most needed him.
With momentum on the Hurricanes’ side thanks to the tying goal by Necas in the third and a reignited PNC Arena crowd, Carolina took only 123 seconds to end the game in overtime.
A Predators power play ended early on a neutral zone interference penalty on defenseman Alexandre Carrier, and the Hurricanes then held possession in the Nashville end at 4-on-4. Defenseman Jaccob Slavin created space with a quick move and passed to Brett Pesce at the right point.
Pesce shot on net and Nashville goalie Juuse Saros (34 saves) made the initial save, then swatted the puck with his stick. But it popped in the air right near Staal, and the Carolina captain batted it out of midair for the game-winner.
Chaos on the ice and in the stands ensued.
“Not a whole lot of thoughts were going through my mind besides just wanting some bear hugs from the fellas,” Staal said of scoring the winner, his fourth goal in five games this series. “We’ve been working hard. We had two rough ones in overtime that hurt. … It’s nice to get rewarded.”
And just like that, Carolina went from potentially being on the brink of elimination in Thursday’s Game 6 in Nashville to being one win away from advancing to the second round.
2. A first-period scrum between Andrei Svechnikov and Luke Kunin led to Nashville taking two minors and giving Carolina its first power play of the game. It also somewhat forced coach Rod Brind’Amour’s hand with his power play units.
With Svechnikov in the box, Teuvo Teravainen and Necas moved to the top unit, and the switch paid off right away. Necas had two shots in succession from the right circle, and the second whizzed past the left ear of Saros to tie the game at 14:21 of the first less than three minutes after Nashville had opened the scoring.
The goal snapped an 11-game playoff drought for Necas, who had scored just once before in the postseason — the game-winner of Game 1 of the play-in series against the Rangers in the bubble last year in his playoff debut.
3. Slavin’s return after missing three games made a huge difference for the Hurricanes. Slavin finished with an assist in 25:48 of ice time, but he was a key part of the overtime winner and also had an assist taken away when Staal’s second-period goal off his boot was overturned for incidental contact with Saros.
“He’s an elite defender, and you take that out of anybody’s lineup, that’s going to be missed — big time,” Brind’Amour said of Slavin.
Watching his teammates drop two straight double-overtime games in Nashville didn’t make being out of the lineup any easier for Slavin.
“They’ve been battling hard this whole series so far,” Slavin said. “Watching the games, I don’t like it, that’s for sure. I definitely get more nervous watching than being in the action.”
The assist was Slavin’s first postseason point since he had a goal and an assist in the same Rangers game in which Necas had last scored, ending a nine-game point drought.
Number To Know
2 — Goals against in each of the last two games for Carolina’s usual fourth line of Steven Lorentz centering Brock McGinn and Jordan Martinook. Both times it was the Predators’ first two goals of the game, but on Sunday when Nashville had final change at home it was top-nine scorers Luke Kunin and Ryan Johansen. Tuesday night, fellow fourth-liner Yakov Trenin had both of Nashville’s goals.
They Said It
“There’s no chance he’s making that save anyway. It’s going wide, hits our skate and goes in. There needs to be a little more common sense on that, in my opinion.”
— Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour on Jordan Staal’s goal in the second period being disallowed for Warren Foegele’s incidental contact with Nashville goalie Juuse Saros
Martin Necas, Hurricanes forward — It felt like it was going to take a fantastic individual effort to generate a Grade-A scoring chance and get it by Saros.
Who better to do that than Necas?
The speedy winger had the power play goal that tied the game in the first and then, with control of the series seemingly slipping away, he tied the game again late in the third period.
Necas got the puck on the Carolina side of the red line and flew up the right wing, faked a shot to freeze Saros, and curled behind the Nashville for the stuffed wraparound that tied the game with just over seven minutes left in regulation.
“I saw that I had a lot of speed,” Necas said. “I think it was [Filip] Forsberg — he’s a forward, so it’s always a little easier against forwards than against D there on the blue line. So I tried him and, fortunately, I went through and what happened, happened.”
With the neutral zone clogged and the Predators clinging to their one-goal lead, the Hurricanes needed something special to break through.
“The talent got us back in the game,” Brind’Amour said. “Basically a solo effort, and it got us back to have a chance to win the game.”
Jake Bean, Hurricanes defenseman — The Hurricanes’ trust in Bean seems to be diminishing. The rookie blueliner played just 7:54 and had just two shifts in the third period and none in overtime. That comes on the heels of him playing more than 27 minutes in each of the previous two games, both double-overtime losses.