Through two games of the first round 2021 NHL Playoff series between the Carolina Hurricanes and the Nashville Predators, it feels very much like the Canes will coast to a series win in four or five games.
But NHL playoff series very regularly take a winding road with turns that seem improbable before they happen. And though the Hurricanes are off to a great start, all they have really done so far is defend home ice.
Game three in Nashville sets up to be a fork in the road for how the series goes in total. If the Hurricanes win again, their 3-0 deficit is nearly insurmountable per past history, and they seem almost certain to win the series in four or maybe five games without much for playoff duress. If instead Nashville can refind what it had in winning the final two games of the regular season and claim a game three victory, they will have staved off the fast path and at least staked a claim to making it a long series.
Inevitably, the Hurricanes will face some setbacks in the playoffs just because that is how it works, but in Wednesday’s game they have sitting in front of them a path that very likely pushes adversity and setbacks of significance off into the second round of the playoffs.
Against that backdrop, Friday’s game three could be more important than the current series 2-0 lead suggests.
My watch points follow.
‘What I’m watching’ for the Carolina Hurricanes versus the Nashville Predators
1) Any effect from home cooking for Predators?
Last time these two teams met for a series of two games in Nashville, the stakes were much, much lower for the Hurricanes who were playing for deep playoff seeding and rested a bunch of players in the second game because of it. Nonetheless, I stated afterward that I thought those two wins by the Predators were significant only because they showed that the Predators could in fact beat the Hurricanes after six previous losses. That at least presents the possibility that the Predators gets a burst of energy from a home crowd and recent memories of home ice success against the Hurricanes.
I will be watching early to see if Nashville can generate any kind of boost in terms of energy or level of play because without it the Hurricanes are on a path to winning a short series.
2) More offense
The Hurricanes eventually ran off to a 3-0 win which is fine at this ‘results above all else’ time of the season, but maybe buried beneath the good feelings of winning two straight to start the playoffs was the fact that Wednesday’s effort was a sluggish, grinding affair without much for generating scoring chances. More so than the 3-0 final on the scoreboard, the Hurricanes grinded out a light offense 1-0 win that just happened to have an empty-net goal and another inconsequential goal tacked on inside the last 60 seconds of play.
Put simply, the Hurricanes need to find more offensively. Aho’s line has yet to score as a unit at even strength (Teravainen’s goal was with fourth line, Svechnikov’s goal was empty net, Aho’s first goal was power play, Aho’s second goal was empty net). Trocheck’s line gets immense credit for notching the game-winning goal in third period of the game one win, but has generally been quiet.
Thus far the Hurricanes have found a way offensively through a collective effort, but I will be watching to see if the two scoring lines can start clicking at peak form starting in game three.
3) Cleaning up the penalties
With the every other day scheduling for both series so far, I have been watching the Lightning/Panthers second to the Hurricanes in terms of priority with hockey choices each night. On Wednesday, I watched the Hurricanes win a game with significant credit to penalty kill heroics. Sandwiched around that I watched a Tampa Bay Lightning team work like a surgeon on the power play to capitalize on power chances. If instead Florida prevails in that series, the downgrade in terms of power play fire power is not that significant. So while there might be a road through the first round of the playoffs taking too many penalties, the road past that looks incredibly treacherous.
As such, I will be watching to see if the Hurricanes can do a better job answering the physical challenge but do so without risking taking extra penalties in the process.
4) Killer instinct
Especially if the Hurricanes get a break or two or a couple chances early, the opportunity could be there to quickly stand on the throats of the Predators and test if they have the will to scratch and claw to fight for life or if instead they are accept defeat. Regardless, of how the Predators react, game three is a good one to measure the Hurricanes ability to capitalize on momentum and kill an opponent when given the chance.
The puck drops just after 7pm on Bally Sports with Tripp, Mike, Abby and Shane.