The Predators posted a 3-1 win over the Hurricanes on Saturday in Nashville to clinch the fourth and final playoff spot in the Central Division and set up a first-round matchup with the division-winning Hurricanes. The two teams also play in the regular-season finale Monday in Music City, meaning the teams could conceivably play nine consecutive games.
Luke Kunin scored twice for the Preds, while Morgan Geekie had Carolina’s only goal and Alex Nedeljkovic made 27 saves but was handed the loss.
1. Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour was much happier with Saturday’s effort compared to Thursday’s overtime loss to Chicago even though Carolina saw its 13-game point streak end and lost in regulation for the first time since April 12. That Nashville — which clinched a playoff berth with the win — was the more desperate team was no surprise.
“We expected that,” Brind’Amour said. “And I actually give my guys a ton of credit. … (Nashville) just got momentum and poured it on us there in the second. But I thought we had a good bounce back in the third and played pretty hard considering everything that was going on.”
Carolina could have folded up shop after the Predators’ built a two-goal lead on Luke Kunin’s second of the night at 7:41 of the third, but the fourth line responded when Stephen Lorentz set up Geekie for the Hurricanes’ only goal just 86 seconds later.
“Steve kind of drew the defender and made a nice play through him,” Geekie said, “and I was just lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time and get it up over his pad.”
2. The Hurricanes played the final two periods without Jaccob Slavin, who did not return after suffering a lower-body injury late in the opening period. With the Central Division wrapped up before the game and Carolina’s first-round opponent determined after, Slavin’s condition was the most important thing to come out of the game.
“We definitely took him out precautionary, but there was definitely something that he tweaked,” Brind’Amour said. “So that’s a little bit alarming there, for sure. It’s exactly what you wouldn’t want to happen in these kind of games. We’ll know more tomorrow, but I’m hopeful that it’s nothing too serious.”
While Dougie Hamilton has received most of the Norris Trophy hype over the past few seasons, Slavin is the team’s most irreplaceable defenseman. The good news is Carolina can hold Slavin out of Monday’s game and should be able to give him close to a week off to recover if needed.
Brind’Amour also seemed optimistic that the team’s other injured players — Jordan Martinook, Brock McGinn and Cedric Paquette — would be ready for the postseason.
“The big concern would be Jaccob now,” Brind’Amour said. But the other guys were on track, I think, to be back.”
3. While the Predators had a lot to play for Saturday, the Hurricanes seemed content to balance out their usage and not overplay anyone unnecessarily. The Slavin injury threw a bit of a kink in that as the remaining five defensemen each logged more than 20 minutes, but Jake Bean and Jani Hakanpaa each carried much bigger loads. Bean led all Carolina players with a career-high 23:37, and Hakanpaa’s 21:45 was six minutes more than he’s averaged since joining the Hurricanes.
“I thought we competed hard, and those guys had to play more minutes than they normally would,” Brind’Amour said. “I thought they were fine.”
Number To Know
2.65 — Goals per game this season for Nashville, 21st in the NHL and currently the fewest among teams that have made the playoffs. The Predators (minus-3) are one of only two teams of the 15 to have qualified for the postseason to have a negative goal differential. St. Louis is minus-10, while Montreal — with a magic number of 1 point — has not yet clinched the final spot in the North Division but is currently minus-7.
The Hurricanes’ plus-48 goal differential trails only Vegas (plus-62) and Colorado (plus-53).
They Said It
“The goal was to pretty much get the building alive and (they) fed off that. They did a good job doing that.”
— Hurricanes center Steven Lorentz on the Predators’ desperation in trying to secure a playoff spot
Steven Lorentz, Hurricanes center — Lorentz’s beautiful assist to Geekie made it so Predators goalie Juuse Saros (21 saves) was unable to make yet another spectacular save — though he certainly tried. Lorentz continues to hold his own and, along with Geekie, has made a solid case for being on the fourth line next season. The duo’s chemistry has helped them both succeed.
“He and I are actually roommates,” Lorentz said, “and I’m a firm believer that if you can get along off the ice, then I think some of that translates onto the ice as well. … I know his tendencies and he knows how I play the game. He thinks the game at such a high level and he can rip the puck. I know any time I give him the puck, I just head to the net and good things will happen.”
Dougie Hamilton, Hurricanes defenseman — On a night when the Hurricanes could have used a big night from him if they wanted to win, Hamilton was on the ice for all three goals against — including seemingly out of position on Kunin’s second goal — and was unable to help Carolina shake out of its offensive funk. Hamilton looked a little out of sorts at times without Slavin, as did the whole team, and the low stakes of the game for the Hurricanes made it tough for them to rise to Nashville’s energy.