With the Predators’ win over the Hurricanes on Saturday, the two teams were officially paired up for the first round of the 2021 NHL Playoffs with a likely start date next Saturday or Sunday in Raleigh. The Predators’ win was their first in seven tries against the Hurricanes this season and at a minimum shows what is possible.
Today’s Daily Cup of Joe includes watch points for the season finale and playoff preview on Monday against the Predators.
What is still at stake Monday in terms of playoff positioning?
The Hurricanes still have a bit to play for in terms of home ice in the playoffs. With home ice advantage already assured for two rounds of divisional playoffs, earning at least an overtime loss point would also assure the Hurricanes home ice advantage for the semifinals too. If the Hurricanes lose in regulation on Monday, the Maple Leafs could finish ahead of the Hurricanes via tiebreaker and gain home ice advantage in a potential semifinal match up. With a win, the Hurricanes could still win the President’s Trophy and home ice through the entire playoffs, but that is unlikely.
The Predators positioning is set, so they are more or less looking forward to the playoff series at this point.
1) Petr Mrazek
In his first start back from injury, Petr Mrazek looked a bit rusty, especially early, in a 6-3 win. He looked like a different player in a much better second game despite losing 2-1 in overtime. With Nedeljkovic playing on Saturday, I would expect Brind’Amour to give Mrazek the final start leading up to the playoffs. If that is the case, I will be watching to see if he can follow up his strong effort last Thursday.
2) Setting the tone
In Saturday’s game, Nashville came out aggressive and was physical throughout the game. Especially with nothing at stake for the Predators on Monday, I would expect them to try to use Monday’s game to reinforce the tone they set in Saturday’s win, especially since it yielded a win for the first time in seven tries. One would figure that Monday’s game will be a bit heated at times. I will be watching to see if the Hurricanes can match intensity and answer physical challenges but do so in a way that does not take them off their game as the better team through seven regular season games.
3) The second and third lines
Even Aho’s line hit a lull on Saturday, but that line has generally been red hot of late. Of some concern is the recent power outage for the next two lines. Vincent Trocheck has not scored a goal in 13 games though he does have a respectable seven assists in those games. Martin Necas had an 11-game goal scoring drought before breaking out for goals in three consecutive games against the Blackhawks. Jordan Staal has also cooled a bit collecting only a lone assist and no goals in five games in May with another scoreless game to close out April. Throughout the regular season, arguably the greatest strength of the Canes has been the team’s strength and offensive production down the middle. Measured more in scoring chances generated than points, ideal would be to get both the second and third line warmed up a bit heading into the playoffs. Most interesting though unlikely would be if Brind’Amour shuffled lines a bit to see if that provides a spark.
4) The returnees?
The team will not say who is available until sometime on Monday, but also worth watching is the play of anyone who draws into the lineup. Jake Gardiner figures to play in place of Jaccob Slavin who left Saturday’s game early. Brock McGinn and Cedric Paquette could return especially if Brind’Amour decides to rest a player of two. Especially if McGinn returns, Monday will offer a look at the potential for players to hop back into the lineup and be up to speed immediately for playoff hockey.
What say you Canes fans?
1) What do you expect for tone? Will Monday’s game be a testy and physical affair in which each team tries to make a point? Or will the game fade a bit in the second half as each team saves it for the games that matter starting later in the week?
2) Which of my watch points do you see as most significant on Monday?
3) What else would you add to a watch list?