Shortly after game 6 ended, I said two things on Twitter.
First, I gave credit to the Nashville Predators for giving the Hurricanes all they could handle. I entered the series thinking that the Hurricanes were the better team, and that proved true in the end. But the margin was tiny. If you exclude empty-netters and the goal after an empty-netter and count only regulation, the Hurricanes had a lone 2-goal win (game 1), a 1-goal win (game 2) and four ties.
Second, I noted that this game reminded very much of the stretch of hockey shortly after the start of the season when the Hurricanes had a run of games in which they did not play particularly well but just made enough skilled scoring plays to win anyway. That was very much the story of this game. If one looks at the progression of three games in Nashvill, the first game saw the Predators play decent and the Hurricanes do the same such that it became an overtime coin toss won by the Predators. Game 4 actually saw the Hurricanes carry play but make too many horrid mistakes defensively to again let the Predators get into overtime. Through two periods, game 6 was the worst of both worlds and then some. The Predators played their best hockey of the season and the Hurricanes were again prone to defensive lapses. But a key play by Dougie Hamilton knocking a puck out of mid-air at the point on the power play and getting it to the front of the net got the Hurricanes back in it at 3-2. Combined with a couple clutch saves by Alex Nedeljkovic, the ball was on the tee for a single good period of hockey to steal a win. And though it officially took overtime, that is exactly what happened. The Hurricanes finally dialed it up in the third period and were the better team down the stretch.
The question coming out of the series is if it took too much out of the Hurricanes or if the boost of energy gained from winning is enough to reenergize the Canes for a chance at the champion in round 2. The Lightning also had a bit of a struggle getting through the first round, so just maybe things are evened up.
Player and other notes
1) Alex Nedeljkovic
As I said on Twitter shortly after the game, what stood out most about Nedeljkovic’s play was his calmness and steadiness. He was not perfect (just because no one is for a full series), but he was very good. And at no point did he look rattled or in over his head. While acknowledging the case for earlier points, I said that this series win is his officially transition off of the ‘rookie’ moniker.
2) Jaccob Slavin
He could make a case for being the player of the series despite playing only three games. The Canes did not lose with Slavin in the lineup. And his return after three games out of the lineup somewhat steadied the defense (at least in game 5, maybe less so in game 6). And he played a huge role offensively too with assists on the game-tying and game-winning goals.
3) Brett Pesce
Whereas Slavin gets credit for impact per game played, Brett Pesce was tops for being a warrior game in and game out in an arduous series. He was the player who got the puck to the net for Staal’s overtime game-winning in game 5, contributed offensively and just logged a ton of minutes when Brind’Amour was feeling unsure about the blue line in total.
4) Dougie Hamilton
His game on Thursday was an odd mixed bag. The Canes likely do not win without his play to get them back in it at 3-2 after a rough second period. Then he added the game-tying goal on the backdoor play. But the defensive part of his game still looked a bit lackadaisical at times. Here is hoping that the scoring helps him locate a higher gear for the next round.
5) Jordan Martinook
The other player who deserves a ton of credit for turning the tide is Jordan Martinook. He laid into his team mates on the bench in the second period and then followed it up on the ice by banging bodies and coming really close to setting up two goals.
6) Sebastian Aho
He was not dominant in the series, and he was unable to get his line ignited through five games with Andrei Svechnikov and Teuvo Teravainen languishing a bit. But he was productive and good throughout the series and somewhat quietly picked up seven points in six games. The ball is on the tee for a big challenge trying to be as good or better than the other team’s top players against the Lightning.
7) Jordan Staal
He is another player with a good claim to being the player of the series. He produced offensively especially when the team really needed and played his usual rugged brand of two-way hockey.
8) Brock McGinn
He is gradually building a reputation as a playoff performer. Bumped up to Aho’s line, he again produced on Thursday.
9) Just win baby
Of the 2021 NHL Playoffs first round victors, the Hurricanes will not go down as the most impressive. The margin of victory in the series was tiny. But at the end of the day, it is very simply about winning and advancing. Mission accomplished.
After predicting that the Hurricanes would be pushed off of Saturday to either a Sunday afternoon or Monday night for the first round and being correct, I will try to go 2 for 2 predicting that the Hurricanes play on Sunday with a good chance. More than anything the scheduling is about maximizing TV slots. The NHL has the Islanders versus Bruins for the Saturday night slot and also game 6 of the Maple Leafs/Canadiens series if it decides to stick with the usual and not start the second round until the first is completed. Even they wait, the Celtics are home in Boston on Sunday, so that still figures to be where the Canes/Lightning slot. Regardless, Hurricanes fans are now scheduled to be treated to at least four more games with two at PNC Arena.
If time permits tomorrow, hope is to start previewing the epic tilt against the Lightning.