The Hurricanes started their first-round series with the Nashville Predators on the right foot Monday night, winning 5-2 thanks to two goals from Jordan Staal, a game winner from Nino Niederreiter and 22 saves from Alex Nedeljkovic.
Nedeljkovic, Staal, Niederreiter and Rod Brind’Amour spoke to the media after the win, here’s a full breakdown of everything they had to say:
On what he liked the most: I just thought we played hard for 60 minutes and just didn’t really let up. Just kind of stuck with what we had to do. That’s pretty much it. I liked the fact that there really was no let ups. They played hard. Nashville played extremely hard. I just thought we were right there the whole way, and obviously got the win.
On getting the lines set well with Brock McGinn coming back: We went into the game kind of thinking we were going to go to that eventually and kind of went to it early. There’s just a little more comfort there with everybody. I thought it worked out. I thought Brock had a really good game, very noticeable considering he’s been out for quite a while. But I think that’s the key, everybody contributed tonight.
On Jordan Staal: He was great. Just, again, it’s just what he does. He plays hard every shift. And whatever the situation, you can count on him. That’s why he’s our leader.
On starting Alex Nedeljkovic: I think we’ve talked about this in some of our previous conversations. It’s really not that difficult. He’s earned the right to start. [Petr Mrazek] is our guy, but he’s had a lot of time off. Not that I was questioning whether or not he could do it, it just gave Ned an opportunity this year. It just felt like he earned the start.
On the Canes frustrating Nashville: I’m not concerned with how the game’s going to be played. We’ve kind of shown that all year, whatever style it ends up playing, we’ve answered the bell always. If it’s an up-and-down game, OK, we can do that. If it ends up being a little grittier, that actually suits us too. It definitely had emotion. The crowd was phenomenal. 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.
On how confident he was about Jaccob Slavin playing tonight: Not really. You’re always worried about guys that are nicked up every night. I haven’t gone back to the training room yet, because that’s the place I don’t want to go. You just never know what’s going to happen. He was a warrior tonight, and he’s such a big part of our team. We need him.
On Andrei Svechnikov: He’s another one of these guys that’s a big part of what we’re doing. I thought he was engaged right away and played a real solid game. Shooting the puck, he’s got a great shot. We’ve got to keep that going. The empty-net goal, I don’t think that’s going to matter one way or another. But maybe for him, it feels like he’s contributing. It’s one game, and now we’ve got to repeat that.
On the performance from all the young guys in their first playoff games: Good from everybody. I thought everybody played really well, all the way through the lineup. The guys were grinding. We were comfortable being in an uncomfortable situation. We kept at our game. We kept doing what we want to do. It ended up paying off for us.
On playing in front of a big crowd in PNC Arena: That’s hockey. For everybody it’s been a long time coming. There’s no better feeling than playing a big game at home with the fans like that. The boys were ready to go, and the fans were ready. It was just a lot of fun. Playoff hockey, there’s nothing better.
On if games like this are a test of will as much as execution: There’s gonna be tight matches. It’s playoff hockey. You’ve got to be comfortable, like I said, in those situations and trust in your game and not deviate from that. I thought for the most part throughout the whole game we did a good job of that. You could tell towards the end that we were starting to take over the game. Nino had a big goal for us to kind of get us going in that third period, and it was good from everybody.
On his first goal: Just off the draw I saw we had a little opening there. [Brett Pesce] made a great play, obviously. He didn’t have to fire it. He could have fired that one down. He kind of popped it near the middle, and I saw a couple strides and took a step. I pretty much lost the puck a little bit going between those two guys. I put it on net. When it goes well is usually when you’re not really thinking. I was just kind of finding a way to get to the net. It was a good goal.
On Nedeljkovic’s performance in his first playoff game: He’s been doing that all year, and tonight was no different. I thought he did a great job of handling the puck when he needed to, and then obviously making some big saves and slowing the game down when they were getting some zone time. I thought he was just solid the whole way through.
On the physicality of playoff hockey: It’s part of playoff hockey. It’s being physical and wearing guys down and finishing checks and going to the net hard and defending hard. It’s good hockey. I enjoyed the battle.
On having a lot of fans in the building and the emotions of that: Yeah, absolutely. Coming into the game we were all super excited to have the fans back. It was great to have some noise. We know how good of a team they are. I feel like we got better as the game went on, and we started playing our game in the third period. We got pucks in deep, went to the net and that’s how we found some success.
On Nashville trying to get under Carolina’s skin and on if that went away some as the Canes started to dominate: We know what kind of game they want to play and try to play. At the end of the day they’re a good opponent, they have a lot of skill. They obviously tried to be very physical tonight. We knew it was going to go that way, we knew it was going to be common. We just tried to stick to our game plan and keep it fairly simple. We’ve got a couple tweaks we’ve definitely got to sharpen up, but overall it was a solid first game.
On Staal’s night: Obviously he’s our captain for a reason. He leads by example on and off the ice. He’s made some terrific runs. He obviously won the Stanley Cup with the Pittsburgh Penguins. So, he knows what to expect. He knows what to do. We definitely want to follow his lead.
On his game-winning goal: We knew how good of a goalie he is. He even made some terrific saves tonight. He obviously had a hell of a save on [Trocheck]. I knew they were both behind the net working, so I was trying to be free and [Necas] found me and I had the chance and put it in.
On playing in front of the fans in PNC Arena: It was awesome. It was incredible. It was one of the best atmospheres that I’ve ever played in front of, for sure. I was fortunate enough, not fortunate obviously with Petr [Mrazek] getting hurt, but I was able to come up a few years ago during the Islanders series. I was able to back up. A full barn doesn’t even compare to what we heard tonight. It will be exciting, hopefully, if we can get a full barn sometime here in the future, just to have everybody in there. It’s such a benefit to us.
On his performance and if he felt comfortable early or if he was fighting it a bit: I don’t know if I was really fighting it. Just a few weird bounces maybe, and then just a bad read on that first goal getting stretched out a little bit. I thought for the most part it was just another game. Everybody was just a little bit louder. You just try to look at it that way, that it’s just another game. We’ve got three more to go here, but our focus is on Wednesday night now.
On staying composed and how important that is in playoff games: You have to. Everybody does. It’s going to get chippy. Guys are going to try to get under your skin in whatever way they can. It’s going to be physical. I think if you take anything from these first few days of playoffs from around the league, it’s physical. It’s going to be a battle. There’s going to be no easy ways to do anything. There’s going to be no ice available unless you create space or you capitalize on a mistake, and there’s going to be even fewer of those than normal. 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.
On if he felt he earned this playoff start: Yeah, I guess so. Everybody wants to play. Everybody wants to battle and get in there. Fortunately the coaching staff and the guys trusted me enough to give me the start tonight. You’ve got to take it one day at a time, and whatever happens happens. Obviously [Mrazek] and [James Reimer] have played just as well all year, so it wouldn’t be surprising to see one of the two of them in net next game. That’s just how things have gone this year. It’s never a bad idea to have two fresh guys, and obviously we have three guys. We’re just taking it one day at a time now, and we’ll see how it goes.
On his reaction when he found out he was getting the start: I was just very excited. Like I mentioned earlier, it’s a crazy crowd here. They’re some of the best fans in the league. And like I said, it’s going to be even better when we can get everybody in the building. Whatever we had, 12,000 tonight, it felt like 24. It was crazy. That’s about it. I was just really excited to get the opportunity.