For the second consecutive game, the Hurricanes came close to winning the road game needed to return home with a chance to finish the series at home in five games. For the second consecutive game, the Hurricanes fell short after pushing the game into a second overtime.
I thought Sunday’s loss was different in the sense that the Hurricanes were the better team with more chances for most of the game with two critical exceptions. First, the Hurricanes had too many big ‘oopses’ of the variety that lead directly to a goal against. Second, I thought the overtime was more even than the regulation portion of the game.
In regulation, the Hurricanes had the advantage by every statistical measure except the scoreboard. The team had roughly a 2 to 1 advantage in terms of shots, shots on goal and scoring chances but were still stuck in an even game for two reasons. First, the Canes made too many costly errors. Second, Juuse Saros played his best game of the series.
Nashville scored first when Dougie Hamilton turned the puck over by putting it on a Predators’ stick when the Hurricanes were changing lines. The result was a quick transition that saw Brett Pesce and Brady Skjei try unsuccessfully to scramble into position. When the puck got behind them Luke Kunin was in alone and beat Alex Nedeljkovic.
The oddest of the ‘oopses’ was the Predators second goal. Nedeljkovic had the puck and then all of a sudden did not. The replay shows Hamilton, who should have been that overcautious player there with his stick ready to push the puck back to the goalie, skating away. The far side of the screen also has Jake Bean and I believe Brock McGinn (cannot tell for sure on second player) doing the same thing. When the puck popped loose it was an easy goal for the Predators.
Then finally in overtime Hamilton was front and center again when he maybe guessed on a pass around the boards. When the puck did not go that way, Hamilton was caught defending no one as he circled the net while the Predators quickly capitalized with a centering pass to the scorer who Hamilton should have been defending.
The loss was a bitter pill to swallow because the Hurricanes mostly outplayed the Predators for large sections of regulation before a more even trade of chances in overtime.
Player and other notes
1) Easier road now gone
The Hurricanes arrived in Nashville really just needing to win one of two games to carve a path to a somewhat easy first round win and avoid early adversity. After consecutive losses, anything easy has evaporated into thin air. At a bare minimum, the Hurricanes will now need to travel to Nashville again and play at least six games.
2) Dougie Hamilton
After games three and four, I think Hamilton is now the single biggest key to how the series ends. He has struggled in general in the series and put an even bigger exclamation point on that in Sunday’s loss. Whether he continues to sink or gets fired up and rebounds could determine how the series ends.
3) Alex Nedeljkovic
He had the horrible error for the Predator’s second goal, but impressed me after that. He made one of his best saves of the series almost immediately after the goal against and made a few more dandies in the third period. Obviously the error was a costly one, but Nedeljkovic deserves credit to responding very well to his personal adversity.
4) Brock McGinn
McGinn continues to show the urgency approach for the playoffs on every shift. On Sunday he was rewarded with two goals. In general, the bottom half of the forward group seems to most be dialed in for playoff-level intensity. If they could transfer a bit more to the top half, it could do wonders for the team.
5) The blue line
I could write three articles just on the situation with the blue line right now. Brett Pesce and Brady Skjei have done all they can to replace Jaccob Slavin’s minutes, but Pesce in particular looked he was completely out of gas at the end of a lot of shifts even toward the end of regulation. If at some point, Pesce and Skjei reach the point where a day off is not enough to rejuvenate them, that could be the beginning of the end of the Hurricanes 2020-21 season.
Hamilton is documented above.
The series is also a testament to how much Jaccob Slavin means to the Hurricanes. On the road, his absence has exposed the Hurricanes lack of depth capable of filling out the top 4. The absence of Slavin’s defensive ability is part (not all) of Hamilton’s struggles. In addition, the players trying to step up into the top 4 look to be overslotted.
6) Waiting on the young guns
When the Hurricanes mostly stood pat in the off-season (which was the right move), the expectation was the next step up would come from the team’s young starts continuing to grow as players. That happened in the regular season, but thus far has not carried over as well to the playoffs. Sebastian Aho has been productive not a stand out. Andrei Svechnikov and Martin Necas have both mustered a few moments but also have not stood out in the series.
7) The bigger picture short-term is rosier than it feels
In terms of winning against the Predators, the situation is not nearly as dire as it feels. The series is now a best of three with two games in Raleigh. Combine that with the fact that the Hurricanes were the better team on Sunday if you adjust out costly errors, and the path is certainly there for the Hurricanes to emerge victorious even if it takes seven games.
8) The bigger longer-term could what is most being impacted
But the issue lurking could be the impact of this series. Will the weight of early adversity sap confidence and momentum and pull the Canes to the ground in round two? Will the physical toll of having to overuse Skjei and Pesce in three consecutive games suck the energy out of them in a way that does not return? Might the Hurricanes now push Slavin back ealier than otherwise desperately needing a win? The potential is definitely there for collateral damage from the series against Nashville to sink the team later.
Next up is a return to the friendly confines of PNC Arena on Tuesday night.