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game recap

Predators clinch playoff berth, defeat Hurricanes for first time

Kunin scores two goals for Nashville; teams will meet in first round

by Robby Stanley / Independent Correspondent

Kunin's breakaway goal

CAR@NSH: Kunin nets his second goal on the break

Luke Kunin skates in on the break and buries a wrist shot for his second goal of the game, giving the Predators a 2-0 lead in the 3rd

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NASHVILLE -- The Nashville Predators clinched the final Stanley Cup Playoff berth from the Discover Central Division with a 3-1 win against the Carolina Hurricanes at Bridgestone Arena on Saturday.

The teams will meet in the first round after playing their final regular-season game here Monday.

Luke Kunin scored two goals, and Mikael Granlund had two assists for the Predators (30-23-2), who defeated the Hurricanes for the first time this season (1-5-1). Juuse Saros made 21 saves.

"I think it's a lot different than every year we've made the playoffs since I've been here," Nashville captain Roman Josi said. "First of all, it's a different season, obviously, but I think just the way we got in and the start we had. Nobody was happy with the way we played. I'm just really proud of the guys. We definitely earned it the hard way. We worked extremely hard to clinch a playoff spot. Just looking back at the last 20 games, it felt like every game was so important and we were in a playoff race every game. Everyone in our locker room played really well."

Alex Nedeljkovic made 27 saves for the Hurricanes (36-11-8), who have clinched first place in the Central Division and are tied with the Vegas Golden Knights for most points in the NHL (80).

The loss ended Carolina's point streak at 13 games (9-0-4), tied for the longest in its history.

"I actually give our guys a ton of credit," Hurricanes coach Rod Brind'Amour said. "I thought we had a lull there in the second period after that one penalty we took that was a little iffy. They just got momentum and poured it to us there in the second, but I thought we had a good bounce-back in the third and played pretty hard considering everything that was going on. I give our guys a lot of credit, and their team too. Obviously, they did what they had to do."

Video: CAR@NSH: Kunin slips backhander past Nedeljkovic

Kunin gave Nashville a 1-0 lead at 12:27 of the second period on a backhand shot. Granlund made a backhand pass from the point to send Kunin in alone against Nedeljkovic.

Kunin made it 2-0 at 7:41 of the third period on a breakaway. It was his 10th goal of the season.

"I think tonight was a step in the right direction," Predators coach John Hynes said. "We had to win to get in. We had to win the game, which is what we knew, but also what we talked to our guys about was there was a certain way that we needed to play. I thought the assistant coaches did an excellent job coming up with a few different things over the last couple of days to present to the guys today. I thought the way that we competed and the way that we played, that was one where you had to win to get in and you're also playing the team that you're going to play. We thought we played a pretty good game here tonight."

Video: CAR@NSH: Kunin nets his second goal on the break

Morgan Geekie got Carolina within 2-1 at 9:07 when he scored at the left post off a backhand pass by Steven Lorentz.

"It was kind of a broken play," Geekie said. "[Max McCormick] tried to take a shot, and his stick broke, unfortunately. But I ended up in the right there. I just tried to get open, and [Lorentz] kind of drew the defender and made a nice play through him, and I was just lucky enough to be in the right place in the right time and get it up over [Saros'] pad."

Erik Haula scored into an empty net to make it 3-1 with 1:03 remaining.

"We've had our ups and downs and a tough start to the year, kind of on the outside looking in," Predators defenseman Ryan Ellis said. "The guys, the coaches, management, everyone, we still believed, and we buried our heads and went to work."

Hurricanes defenseman Jaccob Slavin did not play after the first period because of a lower-body injury.

"We definitely took him out [as a precaution], but there was definitely something that he tweaked," Brind'Amour said. "A little bit alarming there, for sure. This is exactly what you wouldn't want to happen in these kind of games. We'll know more tomorrow, but I'm hopeful that it's nothing too serious."

NOTES: The Predators' 14 playoff appearances since 2004, when they qualified for the postseason for the first time in their history, are tied with the San Jose Sharks for the second-most in the NHL behind the Pittsburgh Penguins, who have made it 15 times in that span. ... Nashville's streak of seven straight seasons qualifying for the playoffs is tied with the Washington Capitals for the second-longest in the NHL, behind the Penguins' run of 15 in a row. ... The Florida Panthers and Tampa Bay Lightning have the other playoff berths from the eight-team Central. ... Hurricanes forward Jordan Martinook participated in the morning skate but did not play. He has missed nine games because of a lower-body injury.

Video: Kunin's two goals propel Predators to playoff berth

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