The Carolina Hurricanes scored three times in the third period to pull away from the Nashville Predators, winning 5-2 in Game 1 of their first-round Stanley Cup Playoffs series on Monday at PNC Arena.
Hurricanes captain Jordan Staal scored twice, and Teuvo Teravainen, Nino Niederreiter and Andrei Svechnikov also had goals for Carolina.
1. The Hurricanes and Predators entered the third period tied at 2, and in a postseason of inevitable overtimes, it felt like Game 1 could be headed that way.
But Carolina wasn’t having it. After tilting the momentum in the second period, the Hurricanes opened the floodgates in the third. Niederreiter scored just 2:26 into the final period off a pass from Martin Necas, and Staal’s second goal with 12 minutes remaining was the death blow that buried the Predators.
“He’s our captain for a reason,” Niederreiter said of Staal. “He leads by example on and off the ice. … He knows what to do. We definitely want to follow his lead.”
Overall, Carolina outshot Nashville 38-24 and carried play for much of the final two periods.
2. The atmosphere was different than any seen at a Hurricanes game in more than 14 months. The NHL — after the state of North Carolina lifted all restrictions on game attendance last week — authorized the Hurricanes to have 12,000 fans at PNC Arena starting with Monday’s game.
It made a difference.
Whether it was the crowd taunting former Hurricanes Erik Haula — both when he had the puck and during a second intermission interview just off the ice — or the momentum swings that seemed accentuated by the loud cheers, PNC Arena again felt like an intimidating building to visit.
“Whatever we had, 12,000 tonight, it felt like 24,” said goalie Alex Nedeljkovic, who had 22 saves in his NHL playoff debut. “It was crazy.”
Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour seemed particularly appreciative to have a building with more occupied seats than empty ones.
“The crowd was phenomenal,” he said. “I just can’t say enough about that. That was nice. That was great for everybody that got to be here. That’s how it should feel. We’ve been missing that for so long. I was happy that our fans got to see us play tonight and play well. That was pretty important.”
3. The Hurricanes have overhauled their roster pretty significantly since Brind’Amour took over as coach. On Monday, however, Carolina leaned on the players who predate the team’s recent success.
On top of Staal and Teravainen, who combined for three of Carolina’s five goals, the Hurricanes got key contributions from other holdovers from the Bill Peters era.
Brock McGinn took the ice for the first time since April 4 and was part of a fourth line that helped Carolina show it wouldn’t be pushed around by a heavy Nashville lineup.
“I thought Brock had a really good game, very noticeable considering he’s been out for quite a while,” Brind’Amour said.
Jaccob Slavin, a game-time decision, not only played but logged a team-high 21:25 and finished with four hits.
“He was a warrior tonight,” Brind’Amour said, “and he’s such a big part of our team. We need him.”
And, finally, there is Brett Pesce, who was playing in his first playoff game in two years and one day after missing last year’s playoff bubble while recovering from shoulder surgery. He assisted on Carolina’s first two goals and, with Slavin, continues to be the bedrock of the Hurricanes’ defense.
While Carolina has grown together over the past two postseasons, it’s Staal, Teravainen, McGinn, Slavin and Pesce — along with Sebastian Aho, the team’s top scorer — who suffered through the lean years.
Certainly any deep postseason run will require contributions from up and down the lineup, but one can’t help but think the road to glory starts and ends with the Hurricanes’ own Original 6.
Number To Know
8 — Shots on goal from Svechnikov, tied for the second-most in a playoff game in franchise history. Jeff O’Neill had 11 shots and a goal against the Maple Leafs in the 2002 Eastern Conference Final-clinching 2-1 win in Toronto.
Brind’Amour is the other former Hurricanes player to have eight shots on goal in a playoff game, doing so in Carolina’s 4-1 loss to Montreal in Game 2 of the 2002 Eastern Conference Semifinals.
Former Whalers Murray Craven (April 23, 1992, vs. Montreal), Dave Babych (April 14, 1987, vs. Quebec) and John Anderson (April 8, 1987, vs. Quebec) all had eight shots in a playoff game for Hartford. Svechnikov’s eight shots on Monday is a franchise-best against a non-Canadian opponent.
They Said It
“Everybody’s got to stay composed as best they can and just focus on the big picture. Maybe save whatever revenge or getting back at somebody for another day.”
— Hurricanes goalie Alex Nedeljkovic on Carolina not getting drawn into retaliation against the Predators
Jordan Staal, Hurricanes center — I’m not sure there were really any, but concerns about Staal’s ability to lead like predecessors Brind’Amour or Justin Williams should be put to rest. The Carolina captain took charge in Game 1, scoring twice at even strength, as the Hurricanes used their depth to come at the Predators in waves over the final two periods.
Brind’Amour summarized what he has said many times before about his captain.
“He plays hard every shift,” the coach said. “And whatever the situation, you can count on him. That’s why he’s our leader.”
Jake Bean, Hurricanes defenseman — A good start for the rookie was negated by a failed clear on the Predators’ first goal. From there, Bean seemed rattled the rest of the way, whether it was from his mistake on the goal or Nashville’s targeting of him.
Bean played 13:44, and there will certainly be questions about whether or Jake Gardiner should play in Game 2 if Nashville again goes with a heavy lineup in an effort to rattle Carolina.