Carolina has Nashville on the ropes.
Wednesday evening saw the Hurricanes skate to a 3-0 shutout over the Nashville Predators in Game 2 to take a 2-0 series lead.
A 2-0 series lead that has seen Carolina been the better team in every regard.
Coming into the series, one of the Predators’ main game plans was to out-physical the Canes, hoping to literally knock them out of the playoffs. This was evident with players like Erik Gudbranson, Ben Harpur and Mathieu Olivier in their lineup.
That plan instantly backfired on them as the Hurricanes outmuscled the tenacious Preds leading in hits 56-49 in Game 1 and then for good measure, hammered them again in Game 2, with a final hit count of 52-39.
That was their plan: out grind the Hurricanes. The team that Rod Brind’Amour built to always give 100% and a team that forechecks you to death with wave after wave of lines playing the exact same way.
Nashville tried to change the plan up a bit in Game 2, opting to finally bring in their talented rookie, Eeli Tolvanen, as well as dependable defenseman Matt Benning rather than the muscle lineup they wanted and the game went worse for them.
The Hurricanes scored three times on Nashville and Alex Nedeljkovic secured his second career postseason win and first ever postseason shutout.
Oh yeah, and the Predators went 0 for 7 on the power play. Zero. For. Seven.
And the Canes were without Jaccob Slavin who was listed as a game-time decision the morning before the game but did end up missing Game 2 with a lower-body injury.
Brady Skjei and Brett Pesce filled the void he left, each registering over nine minutes on the penalty kill with only one other defenseman, Jani Hakanpaa, even seeing over three minutes of PK time.
Despite seemingly heavily weighted officiating, the Predators haven’t been able to score a single goal with a man advantage, now being 0 for 10 in the entire series.
The Canes on the other hand did net a power play goal — going 1 for 3 on the night. Andrei Svechnikov laced a perfect cross-ice pass to Sebastian Aho for the one-timer blast that Juuse Saros couldn’t get to in time.
Andrei Svechnikov with a perfect pass to Sebastian Aho, and the Hurricanes get on the board first in game two! pic.twitter.com/U1yrKZwwDx— y - Canes Country (@CanesCountry) May 20, 2021
And the Canes rode that one-goal lead through to the end.
It’s not like the game was a blowout by any means. It was a one-goal game until 59th minute where Aho netted his second goal of the game into the empty net and then Warren Foegele bounced a puck off a Predator’s skate from behind the goal line.
But that was more due to the credit of Saros.
The Finnish netminder has been the Predators best player — robbing shorthanded chances and high-danger Vincent Trocheck shots — in each game and the team has done nothing to support his efforts.
He’s been lights out for Nashville, but Nedeljkovic has been even better. The biggest thing Nashville was banking on coming into the series was his play and Ned has outdueled him every step of the way so far.
The fact of the matter was that Game 2 felt like more of a horribly deflating loss for Nashville rather than a crushing victory for Carolina.
Nashville’s roster in Game 1 didn’t deliver with what it intended. Their roster in Game 2 did worse. There isn’t much more where Nashville can go in this series, but it isn’t over until that fourth win is secured.
Carolina will be heading into a hostile Bridgestone Arena for Game 3 on Friday and Game 4 on Sunday and will have the tough task of potentially finishing out the series if they stick to their game.
Saros is still the Predator’s best chance at stealing a game and if he can find even more levels to his game, Nashville could be a tough out.
But after that win from a Carolina team that was at every disadvantage, it seems it’s just an inevitability.