RALEIGH — The Carolina Hurricanes endured a plethora of penalties but managed to kill off seven Nashville power plays in a 3-0 win Wednesday in Game 2 of their first-round playoff series against the Predators at PNC Arena to take a 2-0 series lead
Sebastian Aho scored twice — once on the power play and then into an empty net — and Warren Foegele added an insurance goal in the final 30 seconds. Alex Nedeljkovic earned his first career playoff shutout and second postseason win.
1. zThe Hurricanes faced a stiff test when defenseman Jaccob Slavin’s game-time decision turned into a scratch. It became even tougher when they were forced to kill off seven penalties.
Enter Brett Pesce and Brady Skjei.
The tandem proved to be rocks all night, with Pesce playing 28:01 (9:18 shorthanded) and Skjei logging 27:44 (9:37 shorthanded). Those aren’t just a lot of minutes, they’re difficult minutes. The end result — with a lot of help from Nedeljkovic’s 32 saves — was a shutout.
“You can’t say enough about those guys,” Brind’Amour said of his team’s penalty kill. “All the penalty killers, the goaltending. Pesh and Skjei, in particular, obviously had to step up and did in a huge way. Just incredible, really, performances by those guys.”
Skjei played 11:06 in the first period alone — including a staggering 5:50 on the penalty kill — and the team’s success shorthanded allowed Aho’s first goal just eight minutes into the game to hold up as the game-winner.
2. It’s easy to forget that Aho’s winner came courtesy of Carolina’s other special teams unit. And it was perhaps the most confident the power play has looked in a month.
Jordan Staal and Andrei Svechnikov kept the puck from being cleared early in the power play and reset, and a scrum after an Aho point shot led to the puck getting back up top to Dougie Hamilton.
Hamilton walked the puck to the middle of the ice and dished to his left to Svechnikov. Svechnikov was perfectly set up to shoot from the top of the circle. But as the Predators collapsed to get into the shooting lane, Svechnikov zipped a pass through a seam to the back door for Aho to bang in. It was just the second power play goal in the last nine games and snapped a five-game drought.
3. The Hurricanes leave Raleigh with what they wanted: a 2-0 lead in the best-of-seven series. It won’t be easier in Nashville, where fan momentum will shift to the Predators as will the last change that allows a coach to dictate matchups.
Still, it’s hard to see Nashville having a better opportunity to win a game than they did Wednesday, and Carolina just out-willed the Predators for 60 minutes and might have broken their spirit.
The Hurricanes won’t face a 7-3 power play opportunity differential in Friday’s Game 3, so Nashville will need to find a way to figure out Nedeljkovic while containing Carolina’s attack if they stand any chance to get back in the series.
The Hurricanes know they can’t take their foot off the gas pedal.
“Both games have been a lot of high intensity, a lot of battles. Grind games,” Aho said. “And I don’t expect anything less in Nashville.”
Number To Know
5 — Scoring chances for the Hurricanes while on the penalty kill, compared to just four scoring chances for Nashville’s power play in 13:04 minutes. The Predators were limited to just 10 shots on goal with the man advantage and allowed Carolina to register six despite being down a skater. The Hurricanes’ power play, meanwhile, had two shots on goal and four scoring chances in 3:50, scoring on one of three opportunities and not allowing Nashville any shorthanded scoring chances nor shots.
They Said It
“I think that’s just the playoff hockey. Those things happen and, yeah, I think that’s it.”
— Hurricanes center Sebastian Aho on if there’s a backstory to the animosity between Predators center Erik Haula and his former teammates in Carolina.
Alex Nedeljkovic, Hurricanes goalie — Any questions about Nedeljkovic have been answered. The rookie goalie continues to shine in the Carolina net and had arguably his best NHL game on Wednesday.
“We know that if they make a play that Ned will bail us out,” Aho said of the goalie’s play allowing the rest of the penalty killers to be aggressive. “It’s just huge when you have a hot goalie, and it’s just fun to watch him play right now.”
The key for Nedeljkovic, he said, has been the mental preparation and focus needed to withstand any situation — even a tight game with seemingly endless penalty kills.
“It doesn’t matter if they have 10 shots, 20, 50 shots,” Nedeljkovic said. “The biggest things, I feel, is mentally. … Your body remembers how to make a save. Your glove just knows where to go. But your mind has to be the one that’s clear and working and processing things at a fast pace.
“You can’t really think about it. You just have to go out and do it, and that’s tough. Nobody can do it for 60 straight minutes, just not think about it, just do it. It’s tough and it takes a lot of work. For me, especially, the less I think, the easier the game gets.”
The officials — Between all the penalties called by the refs and the countless number of times linesman Michel Cormier threw players out of the circle or restarted a faceoff, the game dragged on much longer than it should. The players and fans deserve better.