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The Difference, Part I
The last rookie goaltender in franchise history to record a shutout in the Stanley Cup Playoffs was Cam Ward, who did it twice in a postseason run that ended with the Canes raising Lord Stanley's Cup.
In his second career NHL postseason start, Nedeljkovic became just the second goaltender in franchise history to accomplish that feat, as he made 32 saves on 32 shots in his second straight victory.
"You always dream about things like this. As a kid growing up, you think about playing in the playoffs and playing for a Stanley Cup," Nedeljkovic said. "Just to play playoff hockey, especially with how hard things have been around the world the last year and a half or so, it's a privilege right now to do what we get to do. It's exciting."
That cool, calm and collected response - especially after such an emotional and tense 60 minutes in front of another raucous sellout crowd of 12,000 at PNC Arena - was indicative of Nedeljkovic's demeanor during the entire game.
"He was pretty calm in there. He made some big saves in critical times," head coach Rod Brind'Amour said. "He was huge."
He was especially critical on the penalty kill, when he made 10 of his 32 saves en route to the Canes dispatching all seven of Nashville's power play opportunities.
"All the guys in the PK did a great job. Number one star was probably Ned. He was a stud tonight," Brady Skjei said. "To have a good PK, you need your goaltender playing well. He was phenomenal tonight."
Nedeljkovic's best save of the night came about six minutes into the third period and preserved the Canes' 1-0 lead. Mikael Granlund found Luke Kunin skating into the zone with time and space, but Nedeljkovic was on top of his crease to snare Kunin's shot from the high slot.
Video: NSH@CAR, Gm2: Nedeljkovic earns shutout in a 3-0 win
It's a small sample size, obviously, but in his first two playoff starts with the Canes, Nedeljkovic is 2-0 with a 1.00 goals-against average and a .964 save percentage.
"His confidence probably sticks out the most for me. He's not cocky or arrogant. He just carries himself with the confidence you need to be a goalie," Skjei said. "He's playing great right now, and he'll definitely keep that going."
The Difference, Part II
Special teams is so often the difference in a hockey game, and such was the case in Game 2. The Canes finished 1-for-3 on the power play and a perfect 7-for-7 on the penalty kill.
How good was the penalty kill? Not only did they prevent the Predators from scoring, but the Canes' penalty kill also out-chanced the Preds' power play 5-4, according to Natural Stat Trick. The Canes' penalty kill also out-shot their own power play, 7-2.
"You can't say enough about those guys. All the penalty killers, the goaltending," Brind'Amour said. "Pesce and Skjei in particular obviously had to step up tonight and did in a huge way. Incredible performances by those guys."
The amount of whistles and penalties and after-the-whistle scrums in the second period turned 20 minutes of game action into 42 minutes of actual time. Ice time was uneven and rhythm was tough to establish, but the Canes held strong.
"It wasn't pretty, right? The first two periods were no flow. Not a very good game, I felt. We couldn't get any traction," Brind'Amour said. "We had some guys who couldn't get on the ice. It was a very strange flow to the game."
The Difference, Part III
On May 19, 2011, "Parks and Recreation" aired its season three finale entitled "Li'l Sebastian." It's only fitting, then, that exactly 10 years later, (Li'l) Sebastian Aho himself scored two goals.
After going 0-for-4 on the power play in Game 1, the Canes stressed the importance of the man advantage heading into Game 2. The first power play came up empty, but Aho made sure the second one counted. Andrei Svechnikov looked to shoot from the top of the left circle, but instead he threaded a tape-to-tape pass to Aho for the one-time finish.
Video: NSH@CAR, Gm2: Aho buries a one-timer for a PPG
The goal marked Aho's 25th career NHL postseason point (9g, 16a) in his 25th career NHL postseason game. He then added an empty-net goal late in regulation to seal the victory.
Video: NSH@CAR, Gm2: Aho scores 2nd on an empty net
Brind'Amour said on Tuesday that Jaccob Slavin, despite the fact that he played more than 21 minutes in Game 1, "might be a game-time decision for a while here yet." Though Slavin participated in the morning skate, a lower-body injury kept him out of Game 2.
With Slavin out, Jake Gardiner drew in - he had a productive night with two shot attempts, five hits and three blocked shots in 9:07 of ice time - and Brady Skjei and Brett Pesce saw elevated roles, especially with so many penalties to kill.
Pesce played a game high 28:01, while Skjei logged 27:44. Both players were on the ice for over nine minutes of shorthanded action.
"I figured with Slavo being out I'd go up a little in ice time. The PKs were a big part of that reason. It was a solid game," Skjei said. "Once you get in the flow of the game, you're not thinking about ice time. You're just playing."
Each of the six Canes' defenders recorded at least one blocked shot, while Pesce posted a game-high five blocked shots.
"Right now, it's just about getting the win. Everybody wants to do well, but they're not always going to be pretty," Nedeljkovic said. "Tonight, there were a lot of sacrifices around the board. Guys were blocking shots, diving to make plays and getting pucks out. It wasn't our best, but it was a really good, gutsy effort."
For good measure, Foegele netted his first goal of these playoffs with just 27.3 seconds left in regulation. Foegele stopped and started in the corner and hooked behind the back of the cage. He attempted a centering feed to Jordan Staal that instead bounced off the skate of Ryan Ellis and through Juuse Saros.
Video: NSH@CAR, Gm2: Foegele gets a bounce in front
Quote of the Night
"It doesn't matter if they have 10, 20 or 50 shots. The biggest thing is mental. That's where you have to be the most sharp. Your body remembers how to make a save. … Your mind has to be the one that's clear, working and processing things at a fast pace. You can't really think about it. You just have to go out and do it. … The less I think, the easier the game gets." - Alex Nedeljkovic
This series shifts to Nashville for Games 3 and 4 on Friday and Sunday, respectively.
"Both games have been high intensity with a lot of battle. Grind games," Aho said. "I don't expect anything less in Nashville."
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