It’s that time once again where 16 teams aim to win the most prestigious trophy in all of sports, the Stanley Cup. In the first round I’ll be covering the Central Division champion Carolina Hurricanes and the Nashville Predators as they face off for the first time in Stanley Cup Playoff history.
How Did They Get Here?
Record: 36-12-8 80 points – First in Central Division
Season Series v. NAS: 6-2-0
Record: 31-23-2 64 points – Fourth in Central Division
Season Series v. CAR: 2-5-1
Going into the playoffs Sebastian Aho of the Hurricanes would lead the team with 57 points (24 goals and 33 assists) in 56 games played. However, after missing a little over half of the season due to injury Teuvo Teravainen would get himself back into the groove of things as the regular season came to a close. In his first full season with the Hurricanes since being traded over by Florida last season, Vincent Trocheck would make himself at home in Carolina as he would produce 17 goals and 26 assists for 43 points in 47 games played to give the Hurricanes stability in the center position.
For the Predators it would be a shaky season for them as they would not have anyone crack the 20 goal plateau or 40 points. Filip Forsberg had a respectable season with 32 points (12 goals and 20 assists), as did Calle Jarnkrok (13g, 15a for 28 points), but more is to expected from Ryan Johansen (7g, 15a for 22p) and Matt Duchene (6g, 7a for 13p) if Nashville looks to contend against the Hurricanes.
On defense the Predators tout a solid group lead by Roman Josi, who would also lead the team in scoring with 33 points (8g and 25a). Mattias Ekholm (6g, 17a for 23p), Ryan Ellis (5g, 13a for 18p), and Dante Fabbro (2g, 10a for 12p) will be tasked with shutting down speedy Hurricanes team.
For Carolina Dougie Hamilton would lead the way with with 10 goals and 32 assists for 42 points amongst all Hurricane defenders. Hamilton is surrounded with a solid defense core that also features Jake Gardiner (8a), Jaccob Slavin (3q, 12a for 15p), Brady Skjei (3g, 7a for 10p), Brett Pesce (4g, 21a for 25p), and recently acquired Jani Hakanpaa (2g, 1a in 15 games with CAR), and they will be looked to keep up with their stellar defensive play to help guide the Hurricanes past the Predators.
The Carolina Hurricanes would get some very balanced goaltending from their three goaltenders. In his rookie season Alex Nedeljkovic would shine for the Hurricanes as he would go 15-5-3 in 23 games played. He would split games with James Riemer who would go 15-5-2 in 22 games played, and originally slated number one Petr Mrazek would only play in 12 games due to injury, but would record a 6-2-3 record for the Hurricanes.
For the Predators this would be the season Juuse Saros would truly breakout as he would play in 36 games and record a 21-11-1 season, while Pekka Rinne would record a 10-12-1 record in 24 games played as he settles into being the number two to Saros.
While the Predators would defeat the Hurricanes in their final two games of the season, one has to look at those games as throwaways. By the time they had gotten to those games the Hurricanes were well established as the division champions, and the Predators already had their playoff spot locked in. The one question to ask is how will the Hurricanes respond once the puck is drop no that the games have meaning once again. If the Hurricanes flip that switch and play their game, it’ll be a short series. However, if Saros remains hot, the Predators could steal a couple games.
My prediction will the Hurricanes in five games.