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Second Round Series Preview: Hurricanes vs. Lightning

Central Division champs meet defending Stanley Cup champs

by Michael Smith @MSmithCanes / Hurricanes.com

It was late February, just a little over a month into the regular season, when the Carolina Hurricanes and Tampa Bay Lightning squared off in four consecutive games.

At that point, the Canes had played only about a quarter of their 56-game schedule, but it was clear: That four-game series was a mini-playoff preview of the real thing some three months down the line.

And, sure enough, here we are. For the first time in their histories - somewhat surprising given that they spent 14 seasons together in the Southeast Division - the Canes and Lightning will match up in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

The top-seeded Canes dispatched the Nashville Predators in a hard-fought six-game series in the First Round, while the Lightning claimed victory in the battle of Florida against the Panthers in the First Round.

Now, the Central Divisions champions meet the defending Stanley Cup champions to decide who will advance to the Stanley Cup Semifinals as one of the final four teams left standing.

"We're getting the Stanley Cup champs. We know what we're up against. We're going to have to be as good as we can to have a chance against these guys," head coach Rod Brind'Amour said. "It's a great challenge for us. We'll give it all we've got."


The Match-Up

(1) Carolina Hurricanes vs. (3) Tampa Bay Lightning

Game 1: Sunday, May 30 | 5 p.m. | PNC Arena
Game 2: Tuesday, June 1 | 7:30 p.m. | PNC Arena
Game 3: Thursday, June 3 | 8 p.m. | Amalie Arena
Game 4: Saturday, June 5 | 4 p.m. | Amalie Arena
Game 5*: Tuesday, June 8 | TBA | PNC Arena
Game 6*: Thursday, June 10 | TBA | Amalie Arena
Game 7*: Saturday, June 12 | TBA | PNC Arena

*If necessary

2021 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFFS


By the Numbers

2020-21 Regular Season Stats
36-12-8 Record 36-17-3
80 Points 75
3.13 Goals per game 3.21
2.39 Goals against per game 2.59
25.6% Power Play 22.2%
85.2% Penalty Kill 84.2%
32.0 Shots for per game 30.2
28.2 Shots against per game 28.3
53.9% Faceoffs 50.1%
CAROLINA   TAMPA BAY

Video: Top plays from Tampa Bay vs. Carolina matchup

2021 Playoff Stats
4-2 Record 4-2
3.67 Goals per game 4.00
2.67 Goals against per game 2.83
21.1% Power Play 40.0%
88.5% Penalty Kill 72.7%
42.3 Shots for per game 31.2
34.2 Shots against per game 37.8
51.7% Faceoffs 48.9%
CAROLINA   TAMPA BAY

Carolina regular-season leading scorer: Sebastian Aho, 57 points (24g, 33a) in 56 games

Tampa Bay regular-season leading scorer: Brayden Point, 48 points (23g, 25a) in 56 games

Carolina playoffs leading scorer: Sebastian Aho, 7 points (5g, 2a) in 6 games

Tampa Bay playoffs leading scorer: Nikita Kucherov, 11 points (3g, 8a) in 6 games


Revisiting the Season Series

The eight-game season series between these two teams was about as evenly matched as it gets. Both teams finished with a 4-3-1 record, while the Canes held a slight 18-17 edge in goals. Petr Mrazek and Alex Nedeljkovic each recorded a shutout in the season series, while Andrei Vasilevskiy posted one, as well.

Jan. 28: Hurricanes 1, Lightning 0 (OT)

The Canes sported a different kind of lineup for a different kind of home opener. They were missing five NHL regulars. They had one player making his NHL debut and two more making their team debuts. And, after a nine-day layoff, they had just two practices to bring it all together before hosting the defending Stanley Cup champions. Mrazek stood tall and made 32 saves on 32 shots to earn his second shutout of the season, and Martin Necas scored the game-winning goal in overtime.

Video: Necas' OT winner propels Hurricanes past Lightning

"That is how it's supposed to look. It doesn't really matter who goes in," Brind'Amour said. "Now, there are times when the talent has to take over, but I felt like tonight it looked right. The effort was certainly there."

Feb. 20: Hurricanes 3, Lightning 0

In his 10th career NHL game and eighth career start, Nedeljkovic earned his first career NHL shutout in a 24-save performance against the defending champions. Cedric Paquette scored his first goal with the Canes against the team he won the Stanley Cup with just a handful of months prior, and Vincent Trocheck opened the scoring in the second period with his 300th career NHL point.

Video: Nedeljkovic gets first shutout in Hurricanes' 4-0 win

"We were excellent tonight. We didn't give them much of anything," Nedeljkovic said. "From start to finish, we were playing our game and it showed. We got to them and got a few bounces our way."

Feb. 22: Lightning 4, Hurricanes 2

Jesper Fast scored his first two goals of the season, but the Canes suffered their first regulation loss at home in 359 days in a 4-2 final. Jake Bean recorded a game-high seven shots on goal and his fifth assist in as many games.

Video: CAR Recap: Fast scores twice in loss to Lightning

"They're the defending champions, and they've got that title for a reason," Bean said. "We need to show what we've got here. We know we can play that we need to play. We've just got to do that on a night in, night out basis."

Feb. 24: Lightning 3, Hurricanes 0

As the midseason, four-game miniseries between the two teams shifted to Tampa, the Lightning dealt the Canes their first shutout loss of the season. Vasilevskiy stopped all 25 shots he faced, and the Bolts scored two goals, including one on the power play, in the first period to claim an early 2-0 advantage.

Video: CAR Recap: Nedeljkovic makes 25 saves in 3-0 loss

"Against a team of that caliber, you have to be able to do it the right way the whole time," Jaccob Slavin said. "We have to get to our game and what makes us successful from the drop of the puck and not wait until it's too late."

Feb. 25: Lightning 3, Hurricanes 1

The Canes lost consecutive games in regulation just twice all season, and the second instance came in their final two games when they already had secured the Central Division championship. The first and only other instance was the finale of this four-game set, when the Lightning scored three unanswered goals en route to a 3-1 win in Tampa.

Video: Pesce scores the lone goal in a 3-1 loss

"It's deflating, no question. We were the better team tonight," Brind'Amour said. "A lot of grade-As, and we didn't give up much. I was really, really happy. Unfortunately, that's hockey. You get some bad bounces, and a couple things don't go your way."

March 27: Hurricanes 4, Lightning 3

Martin Necas equaled a career best with a four-point performance (2g, 2a) to lead the Canes to 4-3 win. Tampa Bay took a 2-0 lead in the first period, but the Canes answered back with three straight goals in the second. Necas' second goal of the game, scored on the power play with a little less than four minutes to play in regulation, was the difference.

Video: Necas' four points, Hamilton help Hurricanes to win

"Both teams played hard, right? The games are intense. The further the season goes, every game is huge. That's the defending champs, so obviously it was quite a challenge for us. I'm proud of how we responded," Sebastian Aho said. "It was a great team effort."

April 19: Lightning 3, Hurricanes 2 (OT)

Goals from Andrei Svechnikov and Brady Skjei helped the Canes erase a 2-0 deficit and force overtime in Tampa, but Yanni Gourde netted the game-winning tally 2:50 into the extra session. Despite the Canes not having their best, Mrazek made 33 saves on 36 shots to give his team a chance to steal a game.

Video: CAR Recap: Svechnikov, Skjei score in OT defeat

"Our goalie bailed us out all game," Brind'Amour said. "We had spurts where we were playing it right, but it wasn't good enough. The fact that we got a point out of that was pretty good, and we had a chance to win."

April 20: Hurricanes 4, Lightning 1

The Canes broke open the season series finale between the two teams with three straight goals in the second period. Nino Niederreiter and Jordan Staal tallied just 25 seconds apart, and Steven Lorentz added his second of the year in the last five minutes of the period, as the Canes responded from the night before with a complete team effort.

Video: Niederreiter, Nedeljkovic lead Hurricanes to 4-1 win

"I think everybody was a little bit angry from last night's game," Niederreiter said. "We knew exactly what we had to bring and how to respond."


The Canes Will Advance If …

… they remain resilient

The Canes' First Round series against the Nashville Predators was tight, maybe even tighter than most expected. It was a six-game thriller that featured four straight overtime games for just the third time in Stanley Cup Playoffs history and two straight double-overtime games. It was a tightly contested battle, and the two teams were separated on the scoreboard by just a goal or less for an astonishing 415:18 of the 434:13 of hockey that was played in the series; that is to say that either team had a two-goal lead for just 18:55 - less than a single period - in six games.

The Second Round is likely to be much of the same, especially given how evenly-matched the Canes and Lightning were in the regular season. The Canes will need to tap into that same resiliency to weather inevitable storms that will pop up over the course of a series that could very well push seven games.

"We just keep playing. We're a resilient group. We just keep playing no matter what happens. We just keep going," Dougie Hamilton said after the Canes' OT win in Game 6. "We've been in every game all year. There's no quit in us."

… their best players are their best players

It's potentially the most cliché cliché that has ever clichéd, but the Canes need their best players to be their best players. They're going to need contributions up and down the lineup, no doubt, but they're also going to need their scorers to score, their top offensive players to regularly find the scoresheet, their power play to make a difference, their top defenders to shut down the opposition's best and their goaltending to give them a chance.

The Canes are going to need to be at their best because the Lightning are simply too skilled otherwise. To be at their best, the Canes need their best to bring their best. It's cliché and it's simple, but it's what's going to give them the best chance to dethrone the champions.

"We know they're a great team. There are zero weaknesses. You don't win a Stanley Cup without being the best at everything," Brind'Amour said. "We know it's a big challenge, but we're ready for it."


The Lightning Will Advance If …

… Nikita Kucherov takes over

Kucherov is very easily the x-factor in this series. The sharp-shooting Russian winger missed the entire regular season but returned in the First Round and totaled 11 points (3g, 8a) in just six games. Kucherov is the most lethal weapon on a team filled with them, and if he gets going again, Tampa Bay will be tough to contain.

"He's not only one of the most talented players … but he's probably the freshest guy in the league. You add those couple factors, and that doesn't bode well," Brind'Amour said. "That's a huge weapon for them that they haven't had that we're definitely going to have to be aware of."

… the Canes get into penalty trouble

Kucherov is especially deadly on the power play, where he notched seven of his 11 points and all three of his goals in the First Round. Add in Alex Killorn, Steven Stamkos, Brayden Point and Victor Hedman, and you've got your hands full as a penalty killing unit. The Canes were 23-for-26 (88.5%) on the penalty kill against Nashville in the First Round, while the Bolts were 8-for-20 (40%) on the power play against the Panthers. Both numbers were near best in the league for the First Round, but the Canes don't want to tempt fate.

"He's an elite player. Just like any elite player, you just try to take away their time and space as best you can," Staal said of Kucherov. "Our group has to be much better about staying out of the penalty box, as well."


The Bottom Line

The Tampa Bay Lightning are the Stanley Cup champions for a reason. They're a complete team with elite skill in all areas of the ice. Having been swept in the First Round after a record-setting regular season and then winning the Stanley Cup the very next season, they know exactly what it takes to be a championship-caliber club.

But the Carolina Hurricanes are here for a reason, too. Now making their third consecutive playoff appearance, the Canes have established themselves as one of the elite teams in the National Hockey League. The Central Division champions also have elite skill in all areas of the ice. They're resilient and battle-tested, and now, they're ready to take on their biggest challenge yet.

"The expectation here is to win," Brind'Amour said before the playoffs. "We've got a long road ahead of us, and it's going to be a huge challenge, but that's the expectation."


The Carolina Hurricanes 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs are powered by DieHard. DieHard batteries are available at Advance Auto Parts and participating Carquest locations nationwide.

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