Everyone expected a high-energy opening to the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the Hurricanes, and they sure delivered.
In front of their largest crowd of the season, Carolina defeated the Predators 5-2 to open a 1-0 lead in the series. Jordan Staal, three games shy of his 100th playoff game, tallied twice. The Hurricanes scored three times in the third to take the series lead, holding down Nashville throughout the last half of the game.
Staal gave the Hurricanes their first lead in the second period after Teuvo Teravainen had tied it, then expanded their lead to 4-2 in the third frame.
Defenseman Brett Pesce had a huge game as their lead shut down defender and contributed two assists, including on Staal’s first goal.
The two-goal lead in the third period was not just the first two-goal lead of the contest, but the first for any team in the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Then they went on to win by three.
[NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs 2021 First Round Schedule, TV Info]
Carolina jumped ahead 2-1 before former Hurricanes forward Erik Haula tied it 2-2 for Nashville, but Nino Neidereiter responded to a strong Juuse Saros save by giving Carolina a 3-2 advantage.
Staal then scored his second, going five-hole on Saros, before Andrei Svechnikov sealed it with an empty net tally.
The Predators tried to bring the physical element, and the Hurricanes responded, eventually out-hitting them 56-49. When going into the third frame tied, they outshot the Preds 13-9 in the final period.
Rookie goalie Alex Nedeljkovic made 22 saves to earn his first career playoff win in his first career playoff start.
It was, all in all, a show of dominance for the Hurricanes in the final period. Nashville combined for just 14 shots in the last two periods, even though Haula pulled them to a tie in the second.
Carolina defenders Pesce and Jaccob Slavin were both injured at points leading into Game 1, but both played over 21 minutes, good news for the Hurricanes. Sebastian Aho, held without a point, led the team with seven shots on goal.
It’s also a good sign the offense could produce so well without Aho contributing to the scoresheet.
As for Staal, he had four other two-goal contests this season, including one against the Predators on March 9. He hadn’t scored since April 27 — a seven-game stretch — when he posted two tallies against Dallas, finishing the regular season with 16 goals.
If he stays hot for the playoffs, that would be huge for the Canes. He has some of the most postseason experience on the roster, and was a part of two Stanley Cup runs with the Penguins. He also contributed 10 points when the Hurricanes fell in the Eastern Conference Finals to the Bruins two years ago.
Everything went about as expected from the Carolina end, and they fed off the energy of the 12,000 fans returned to the building. It’s early, but it feels like this is a series the top-seeded Hurricanes should handle, especially if veterans like Staal produce at this clip.
Marisa Ingemi is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop her a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter @Marisa_Ingemi.