With the news that star defenseman Jaccob Slavin would miss Wednesday night’s playoff game against the Nashville Predators with a lower-body injury, the Carolina Hurricanes got stellar performances from goalie Alex Nedeljkovic and the penalty kill units to head to Nashville with a 2-0 series lead. Sebastian Aho scored on the power play in the first period off a pass from Andrei Svechnikov to give the Canes a 1-0 lead and that lead would hold until late in the third period when Aho netted an empty-net goal for his second of the game. Nedelijkovic made 32 saves to win his second straight playoff game, and notch his first-ever playoff shutout.
Let’s talk about last night’
Ned has another phenomenal performance
It seems that there were several games this season where we talked about how great Nedeljkovic was and how he kept the Canes in those games, but Wednesday night was the most impressive. Juuse Saaros was equally impressive, but Nedeljkovic made sure the one-goal lead would be enough for the Canes. He made 32 saves, none more important than the glove save on Luke Kunin in the third period. If there was any question heading into the playoffs who the Canes’ number one goalie was, Alex Nedeljkovic solved that problem with his performances in the first two games of the playoffs.
Penalty kill is killer
It was another chippy affair between the two teams on Wednesday night, with penalties handed out to just about everyone. The Hurricanes were called for seven, yes seven, penalties. That meant the penalty kill had a busy night, and the absence of Slavin meant others would have to step up and meet the challenge. The entire unit responded by killing off all seven penalties and it is now 10 for 10 in the first two games of the series.
Jake Bean, Brady Skjei, Dougie Hamilton, Brett Pesce and more all played an integral part on the PK unit. Aho had several shorthanded opportunities as well that got the fans on their feet, and by the end of the night you could feel how excited the fans were to watch their team kill off yet another penalty.
“You can’t say enough about those guys,” said head coach Rod Brind’Amour. “All the penalty killers, the goaltending, Pesce and Skjei in particular. They obviously had to step up today and they did in a huge way. Just incredible performances really by those guys.”
Skjei hey Brady Skjei
Brady Skjei has been a key member of the Hurricanes defense throughout the year, and he quietly goes about his business on the ice, but on Wednesday night, with Slavin out, Skjei took it upon himself to do it all on the ice. He had his hand in just about every key moment on the PK, he made several great plays on the offensive end and he logged 27:44 of ice time, and 9:37 of that was shorthanded. Those numbers were second only to Brett Pesce, who logged 28:01 time on ice, 9:37 of short-handed time.
“I figured with Slavin being out I would go up a little bit in ice time,” Skjei said. “Obviously, the PKs were a big part of that reason. That was a solid game. Once you get in the flow of the game, you’re not even thinking about ice time. You’re just kind of playing. That was kind of my thought process going through it, and I thought we did a really good job.”
Canes answering the physicality bell
Nashville apparently decided they wanted to try and win the series by coming in and just being as physical as possible. The plan hasn’t worked out like they wanted it to through two games, because the Canes have shown that they can be just as physical, if not more than the Predators. The Canes outhit the Preds in both games to start the series and have frustrated them in the process.
Time to hit the road
After two games in front of 12,000 rowdy Caniacs, the Canes hit the road for the next two games at Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena. It is sure to be a raucous crowd, as it was previously announced that the Preds would have a touch over 12,000 fans of their own in attendance. Game three is set for Friday night and game four is Sunday afternoon. The Hurricanes are looking to end this series by the weekend’s end, but Nashville is looking to get the series back to Raleigh next week. The Canes have all of the momentum at the moment, but as we have seen in the NHL playoffs, anything can happen.