Luke Kunin evened the first-round playoff series between the Hurricanes and Predators when he scored the game-winning goal at 16:20 of double overtime to give Nashville a 4-3 Game 4 win at home to knot the series at 2-2.
Brock McGinn scored twice for Carolina, and Vincent Trocheck had the Hurricanes’ other goal.
1. For the second straight game, the Hurricanes came out on the wrong end of a double-overtime game.
“It’s a tough pill to swallow,” McGinn said. “You never want to lose in overtime, and you work so hard to get it into double overtime there and to lose both of them? It’s not easy. But I think this group has been here before. I think we just got to come out, regroup and just go out and play the next game.”
Carolina dominated possession all game (63.43%, according to Natural Stat Trick), including a 26-9 shot attempt advantage in the second overtime. But the Predators were opportunistic, never more so than on the game-winning goal when Dougie Hamilton drifted from his assignment and Kunin scored the game-winning goal (more on this below).
2. Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour was disappointed in the disparity of penalties between the teams in Games 2 & 3. Given Carolina’s huge edge in possession, Sunday’s 4-2 power play advantage was probably more to the Hurricanes’ liking. The result of those power plays? Not so much.
Carolina was 0 for 4 with the man advantage, managing just six shots on goal in 8 minutes on the power play. That included no shots in the Hurricanes’ chance in the first overtime.
The Predators fared much better, getting just two chances but scoring the tying goal 3:15 into the third on a Nick Cousins redirection that got past Carolina goalie Alex Nedeljkovic (39 saves).
“The power play, we gotta score there,” Brind’Amour said. “That’s the difference in the game.”
3. With back-to-back 50-save games, Predators goalie Juuse Saros has rightfully earned a lot of credit for Nashville getting back into the series. But his performances have had nothing on Nedeljkovic.
Carolina’s rookie goalie made his first gaffe of the series early in the second period, failing to cover a loose puck that Ryan Johansen eventually chucked into the net to give Nashville a 2-1 lead. It would have been easy for Nedeljkovic to be rattled — especially since he was already coming off a double-overtime loss — but he instead became more resilient.
He made a 2-on-0 save on Yakov Trenin shortly after the mishap, and he also used his puck-handling skills to get Carolina out of its end right before McGinn scored his goal late in the second period. Another save — one that was negated played the puck with a high stick — saw him going from side to side for another dazzling stop.
“He’s a wall back there,” McGinn said of Nedeljkovic. “He gives us a chance to win every night. All three of our goalies this year have done an incredible job. Whoever’s in the net, they’re gonna go out there and give us a chance.”
The end result of Nedeljkovic’s two starts in Nashville was two losses, but he has been at least as good as Saros in the series. Nedeljkovic’s numbers through four postseason starts mirror his remarkable regular season (.928 save percentage, 2.13 goals-against average in the playoffs; .932, 1.90 in the regular season) as do Saros’ stats (.927, 2.28 regular season; .929, 2.52 playoffs).
Number To Know
0 — Shots on goal for Nashville’s Mikael Granlund in 30:57, making the Predators winger the 15th forward in the 21st century to play more than 30 minutes in a playoff game without registering a shot on goal.
Granlund also became the first to accomplish the feat while collecting two points, assisting on Preds’ first goal and the game-winner. The most minutes played by a forward without a shot since 2000 belongs to Columbus’ Cam Atkinson, who played 39:49 in the Blue Jackets’ 3-2 five-overtime loss to Tampa Bay in Game 1 of their first-round series last year.
They Said It
“I have no doubt the Caniacs are sitting back home biting their fingernails getting ready to tear the roof off that place. … Can’t wait to get back in front of them and get them juicing us up.”
— Hurricanes forward Jordan Martinook on the team returning home for Tuesday’s Game 5 at PNC Arena
Brock McGinn, Hurricanes forward — Look up “glue guy” in the dictionary and you’re likely to find a picture of McGinn. From being one of the team’s top penalty killers to someone Brind’Amour relies on for his responsible game and toughness, McGinn is one of the heart-and-soul players of the Hurricanes.
On Sunday, he was also Carolina’s top offensive threat. He scored with 1:55 left in the second period to tie the game 2-2, then gave the Hurricanes the lead just 13 seconds into the third period with his second goal.
Dougie Hamilton, Hurricanes defenseman — Observers have rightfully heaped praise upon Brett Pesce and Brady Skjei for the workload they’ve taken on in Jaccob Slavin’s absence. Hamilton, however, has struggled without his defense partner.
Those problems came to a head at the end of Game 4 when Hamilton misidentified a play in his own end, thinking the puck was headed behind the Carolina net. He looped around the net, but by the time he returned to the front the puck was already on Kunin’s stick and in the goal.
His errant pass through the neutral zone in the game’s first minute also led to the Predators’ first goal, also by Kunin, and poured gasoline on a Nashville crowd that was already ignited.
The Hurricanes could live with the occasional mistake by Hamilton if he was producing in the offensive end. While he did have a team-high seven shots on goal and 13 shot attempts in all, he was again held off the scoresheet except for a two-minute penalty — the one that led to Cousins’ power play goal.
I asked Brind’Amour how much the team, and Hamilton specifically, missed Slavin being in the lineup. The Carolina coach addressed only the first part of the question.
“There’s no question,” Brind’Amour said of Slavin’s absence affecting his team. “He is one of the best players in the league. Take him out on anybody’s lineup, you’re gonna miss him.”
The trouble is Hamilton has underperformed in the postseason throughout his Hurricanes career. He totaled six points — including three goals — in Carolina’s seven-game first-round series against the Capitals in 2019, but he has just one goal and three assists in the 17 games since. He did not play in the Hurricanes’ three-game sweep of the Rangers in the play-in round last year.
It’s more than fair to wonder whether this is a Slavin problem or a Hamilton problem.