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Hurricanes vs. Predators playoff preview

Central Division champion Carolina could be tested by Nashville goalie Saros in first round

by Tracey Myers @Tramyers_NHL / NHL.com Staff Writer

The first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs features 16 teams in eight division-based best-of-7 series, which start May 15.

Today, NHL.com previews the Stanley Cup First Round between the Carolina Hurricanes and Nashville Predators.

 
No. 1 Carolina Hurricanes vs. No. 4 Nashville Predators

Hurricanes: 36-12-8, 80 points

Predators: 31-23-2, 64 points

Season series: CAR 6-2-0; NSH 2-5-1

Game 1: Monday (8 p.m. ET; CNBC, BSSO, SNE, TVAS) 

The Hurricanes and Predators will meet in the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time.

Carolina won the Discover Central Division, its first division title since 2006, when it finished first in the Southeast Division and went on to win the Stanley Cup. And though the Hurricanes had a 13-game point streak late in the regular season (9-0-4; April 15-May 6), coach Rod Brind'Amour said they will use the time leading up to the series to work on their game.

"We have to get the tempo up," he said. "We haven't practiced in a month, haven't had a real practice where I can push the guys, get our pace back. To me, the last two weeks you could see it. Once we clinched (on April 27), I could see we got off the gas a little bit. So we need to get back that. We're going to have some time to do that, hopefully get back to playing the way we've got to play."

The Predators turned around their season to finish fourth in the eight-team division and clinch its final playoff berth. They were 8-11-0 and tied for sixth in the Central on Feb. 26 but were 23-12-2 the rest of the way, qualifying for the playoffs for a seventh straight season.

The Predators lost their first six games against the Hurricanes but won the final two to end the regular season, outscoring them 8-1 after being outscored 23-9 in the first six.

"The goals are one thing, but I think our process has been good," Nashville forward Matt Duchene said. "Everyone's committed to playing hard. We're a four-line team, we roll four, and everyone is expected to play the same way and have the same criteria. That's an adjustment for a lot of us, but a lot of guys are making that commitment, and I think the last two games speak volumes."

 

Game breakers

Hurricanes: Sebastian Aho led Carolina with 57 points (24 goals, 33 assists) in 56 games. The forward scored 18 power-play points (seven goals, 11 assists), tied for first on the Hurricanes with forward Vincent Trocheck and defenseman Dougie Hamilton. Aho also tied Trocheck with a Carolina-high seven power-play goals and led the Hurricanes with seven game-winning goals.

Video: CHI@CAR: Aho nets 3 goals to earn a hat trick

Predators: Filip Forsberg missed 17 games from March 27-April 27 with an upper-body injury but is healthy. The forward scored 32 points (12 goals, 20 assists) in 39 games and is a dynamic player who has scored 49 points (26 goals, 23 assists) in 65 playoff games.

Video: NSH@CBJ: Forsberg finishes rebound in front

 

Goaltending

Hurricanes: They have three reliable goalies: Petr Mrazek, Alex Nedeljkovic and James Reimer. Mrazek, who missed 31 games after having surgery on his right thumb in February, was 6-2-3 with a 2.06 goals-against average, .923 save percentage and three shutouts in 12 starts. Nedeljkovic was 15-5-3 with a 1.90 GAA, .932 save percentage and three shutouts in 23 starts. Reimer was 15-5-2 with a 2.66 GAA and .906 save percentage in 22 games (21 starts).

Predators: Juuse Saros was a big reason for their success in the second half of the season. He was 16-6-1 with a 1.90 GAA, .941 save percentage and all three of his shutouts since March 18, when he returned after missing seven games with a lower-body injury. For the season, he was 21-11-1 with a 2.28 GAA and .927 save percentage in 36 games (35 starts). Pekka Rinne was 10-12-1 with a 2.84 GAA, .907 save percentage and two shutouts in 24 games (21 starts).

 

Numbers to know

Hurricanes: Carolina's special teams were strong this season, but especially so against Nashville. The Hurricanes scored at 34.6 percent on the power play and were 88.9 percent on the penalty kill against the Predators, exceeding their regular-season numbers in each category (25.6 percent on the power play, 85.2 percent on the penalty kill). 

Predators: They scored 151 goals this season, last among the 16 teams that qualified for the playoffs. Defenseman Roman Josi led Nashville with 33 points (eight goals, 25 assists) in 47 games, the fewest points for a leading scorer on a playoff team.

 
X-factors

Hurricanes: Carolina signed free agent Jesper Fast to a three-year contract Oct. 11 for his speed and penalty killing. The right wing, playing on the third line with left wing Warren Foegele and Jordan Staal, scored 19 points (six goals, 13 assists) in 46 games, played on both special teams and scored an NHL career-high four power-play points (one goal, three assists). He had one assist on the power play in his previous seven seasons.

Video: CAR@CHI: Fast buries rebound while falling to the ice

Predators: Eeli Tolvanen got his biggest opportunity with Nashville this season, and the rookie forward scored 22 points (11 goals, 11 assists) in 40 games and was third on the Predators with 12 power-play points (six goals, six assists) behind Josi (14) and Forsberg (13). The 22-year-old earned a spot on the top line at right wing with Forsberg and center Ryan Johansen.

Video: NSH@CHI: Tolvanen taps home Arvidsson's great pass

 

They said it

"There's a lot of tough things about [winning the Stanley Cup]. It's a grueling two months and you've got to get a little lucky, stay away from injuries, be at your best every night, and I think you have to have the belief that you can do it. We have all those things. It's just a matter of putting it all together. It can happen this year, and it's worth shooting for. I think we have the group to do it." -- Hurricanes captain Jordan Staal, who won the Cup with the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2009

"It's been a lot of hard work by a lot of people. In the regular season, you're not competing for the Stanley Cup. You're competing to give yourself a chance to get in the playoffs, then you're competing for the Stanley Cup. I think we've earned our way to the situation we're in, but now is not the time for satisfaction. It's important to stay on the gas here. You come into the second season, and that's what our focus is." -- Predators coach John Hynes

 
Will win if …

Hurricanes: They stick with what's worked for them all season. They are effective at heavily pressuring opponents, forcing turnovers and turning them into offense. Carolina also gets production throughout its forward lines, something that will be needed against Saros.

Predators: Saros remains hot. They don't score a lot, so the Predators will need him and their defense to be in top form.

 
How they look

Hurricanes projected lineup

Andrei Svechnikov -- Sebastian Aho -- Teuvo Teravainen

Nino Niederreiter -- Vincent Trocheck -- Martin Necas

Warren Foegele -- Jordan Staal -- Jesper Fast

Jordan Martinook -- Steven Lorentz -- Morgan Geekie

Jaccob Slavin -- Dougie Hamilton

Brady Skjei -- Brett Pesce

Jake Bean -- Jani Hakanpaa

Petr Mrazek

Alex Nedeljkovic

Scratched: Jake Gardiner, James Reimer, Joakim Ryan, Drew Shore, Max McCormick

Injuries: Brock McGinn (upper body), Cedric Paquette (lower body)

Predators projected lineup

Filip Forsberg -- Ryan Johansen -- Eeli Tolvanen

Calle Jarnkrok -- Mikael Granlund -- Luke Kunin

Nick Cousins -- Erik Haula -- Matt Duchene

Yakov Trenin -- Colton Sissons -- Tanner Jeannot

Roman Josi -- Ryan Ellis

Mattias Ekholm -- Alexandre Carrier

Ben Harpur -- Dante Fabbro

Juuse Saros

Pekka Rinne

Scratched: Matt Benning, Erik Gudbranson, Brad Richardson, Michael McCarron, Jeremy Davies

Injured: Luca Sbisa (lower body), Mark Borowiecki (upper body), Mathieu Olivier (lower body), Viktor Arvidsson (undisclosed)

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