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Hurricanes sweep Predators thanks to Hakanpaa’s winner

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The Finnish blueliner may have come to Raleigh as an unknown name, but to appropriate a phrase, if you didn’t know him, now you know.

Jani Hakanpaa celebrates his first goal as a Carolina Hurricane with teammates, Saturday, Apr. 17, 2021 in PNC Arena. The Canes won in regulation, 3-1, against the Nashville Predators.
Kaydee Gawlik

When the Carolina Hurricanes acquired defenseman Jani Hakanpaa from the Anaheim Ducks at the trade deadline, those who had been paying attention to the Ducks this season — which, among Hurricanes fans, was an exceptionally small subset — pointed out that he was a defensive defenseman par excellence who would have little to no impact on the offensive end.

But now that he’s in Raleigh, he’s made his presence known, and quickly.

Hakanpaa’s goal midway through the third period stood up as the game-winner, and a Hurricanes performance for the ages in the first period wasn’t for naught as the Canes swept their two-game series with the Nashville Predators in a 3-1 win on Saturday night at PNC Arena.

The tone for the night was set on the game’s first shift, when Steven Lorentz forced a turnover on the far boards then drove the net with a power move that recalled vintage Erik Cole of the early 2000s. Later in the period, Hakanpaa nearly had his first with the club by driving the net and just missing on a rebound chance, and Jordan Staal also had a chance to open the scoring but hit the post from a tight angle.

The Hurricanes set a season high for shots in a period with 24, and they needed every one of them before they could finally put a crooked number on the scoreboard. Jaccob Slavin, the trailer on a 3-on-2 with Lorentz and Morgan Geekie, sniped a laser over Juuse Saros’ shoulder with 1:42 to go in the first to give the Hurricanes a well-deserved lead.

How well-deserved? According to Natural Stat Trick, the Hurricanes had almost four expected goals in the period, and the 3.92 xG they put on the board would have been their eighth-highest total of the season for a full game.

But everyone in the building knew what was coming, and the apprehension was already beginning even prior to Slavin’s goal. With all those chances, the Predators were sure to respond in the second period, and there was no way the Hurricanes could keep up their blistering pace for another 20 minutes.

Those fears were proven correct. The Hurricanes only registered seven shots in the second period, none of them especially memorable. The Predators dutifully tied it up midway through when Jake Bean, who largely had a game to forget, turned the puck over to Nashville captain Roman Josi in the slot, who took a turnaround wrister to tie the game.

And the Predators nearly took the lead a few minutes later, but Ryan Johansen blatantly kicked the puck into the net, resulting in a no-goal call and a tie game heading to the third.

Andrei Svechnikov, fresh off a first period where he was one of the more engaged players on the ice in a carryover from his slump-busting goal on Thursday, blocked a shot off his left leg early in the third. He stayed on the bench and didn’t miss a shift, bowling over former teammate Erik Haula his next time on the ice.

Hakanpaa, though, did eventually get his first of the season, earning high-fives from his teammates as he fired a one-timer directly off a Vincent Trocheck face-off win. He may have come to Raleigh garnering much the same reaction as previous defensemen acquired at the deadline in the dark years, but he’s now moved far beyond the likes of Jack Hillen, Brian Pothier and Marc-Andre Bergeron, serenaded with “Jani! Jani!” chants as he spoke to Tripp Tracy in the postgame interview.

Svechnikov finished it off into the empty net with 1:50 to go, giving him a two-game goal streak, and the Hurricanes ended their longest homestand of the season at 5-2-1, with a one-point lead over the Florida Panthers for first place in the Central Divison as they head out on the road for six games beginning Monday in Tampa.