Hurricanes vs Predators: 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs First Round preview

Carolina has gone from media darling and the “bunch of jerks” to arguably the favorite to hoist the Stanley Cup relatively quickly.

Nashville has gone from a Cup contender to on the fringe of being a playoff team at all with an aging or already departed core.

They are two teams heading into different eras entirely. The finale for Pekka Rinne in the regular season felt like an era ending already. Carolina, meanwhile, has seen the careers of their young players just begin to take off.

The Hurricanes are the favorites here. Nashville isn’t a bad team, and they’ve persevered all season to get to this point as it is. They won’t go down so easily.

HURRICANES VS PREDATORS – series livestream link

Monday, May 17: Predators at Hurricanes, 8 p.m. ET (CNBC)
Wednesday, May 19: Predators at Hurricanes, 8 p.m. ET (CNBC)
Friday, May 21: Hurricanes at Predators, 7 p.m. ET (USA Network)
Sunday, May 23: Hurricanes at Predators TBD
*Tuesday, May 25: Predators at Hurricanes TBD
*Thursday, May 27: Hurricanes at Predators TBD
*Saturday, May 29: Predators at Hurricanes TBD

Hurricanes – Predators: Stories to Watch

How dominant will the Hurricanes power play be?

Carolina has one of the best man-up units in the league. Nashville has one of the worst penalty kills, ranked at 29th in the league.

In the regular season, Carolina went 9 for 26 (34.6%) on the power play against the Predators.

Keep in mind, when the Hurricanes were swept by the Bruins in the 2019 Eastern Conference Final, their power play was more than disappointing. So, they have something to prove in the playoffs.

They were first in the league most of the season and have been slipping lately, finishing the regular season ranked second. Perhaps the Preds weak penalty kill is just what they need, though.

The Cinderella Preds

For a solid portion of the season it seemed like Nashville was going to in fact be sellers at the trade deadline. They really came out of nowhere, aided by a meek finish to the season for Dallas.

Goalie Juuse Saros is a big part of that, but the Predators have been playing what feels like playoff hockey for the entire season essentially. They were considered out of it and have responded by making the postseason.

Carolina is a clear, far and away favorite. But Nashville knows what it feels like to be counted out, and they know what it feels like to succeed anyways.

It’s Teuvo Teravainen‘s time

Since coming back from injury, Teravainen has played with a star. In the eight games he has been with Sebastian Aho and Andrei Svechnikov on the top line, they have outscored opponents at an 8-to-4 clip on 5-on-5.

Aho had 24 points in his last 19 games as well, but his dominance is almost expected at this point. If he’s not considered one of the top 15 forwards in the league at this point, well, that’s just wrong.

Teravainen might sneak up a bit more. He’s been playing solid hockey, perhaps he is a difference maker these playoffs.

The Brett Pesce factor

Jaccob Slavin is day-to-day but probably will be ready to go at least at some point in the series. If his injury lags, though, or even he’s not 100 percent upon his return, the Hurricanes are going to have some big asks of Pesce.

The 26-year-old is a shutdown defender on a team with tremendous defensive depth. He missed practice earlier last week, too, so perhaps someone else will have to step in for him even.

Their defensive depth will be tested one way or another, but Pesce could make a name for himself the way Slavin did the past two years if he’s ready to go these playoffs.

One big question for Nashville: Will Nashville finally perform against the Canes?

In six tries this season, the Predators were unable to top the Hurricanes. They went 0-5-1, their worst record against any team, before that seventh try, when they beat a Carolina team that no longer had anything to play for. They went a combined 6-16-1 against Carolina and the other two Central playoff teams, Florida and Tampa Bay.

Nashville’s strength is in net with Saros, but it’s not like the Predators are likely to puncture the Petr Mrazek and Alex Nedeljkovic duo with the Hurricanes. If they were facing a weaker defensive and goaltending team, they could have an advantage to exploit.

One big question for Carolina: When does the Hurricanes offense break out?

Carolina is a great offensive team but they’re so close to being the scariest in the league.

Some of it could be bad puck luck too; it happens. In the regular season, they had a 2.7 xG/60 at 5 on 5, but only 2.3 Goals/60 at 5 on 5. Something is going to give at some point, right?

They were 11th in the league in goals per game at 3.11. Given the Predators lack of penalty killing ability, the power play may carry them anyways. But imagine a Hurricanes team living up to its expected goals on 5 on 5. It’s terrifying.

Hurricanes vs Predators series prediction: Hurricanes in 5

It’s not a gimmie but, Carolina should win this. Nashville hasn’t matched up well all season, and the Hurricanes are storming (get it) into a new era as one of the best teams in the league.

This postseason really feels like the accumulation of excellent team building that spans the past few seasons. It feels like it’s their time, and the numbers agree.

Marisa Ingemi is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop her a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow her on Twitter @Marisa_Ingemi.

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