It’s to be expected the Hurricanes defense wouldn’t be the same without Jaccob Slavin.
The top-pairing defenseman skated Tuesday morning and will be a game-time decision before the Hurricanes face Nashville in Game 5, tied at 2-2.
Brett Pesce and Brady Skjei have done an admirable job, but Norris Trophy candidate Dougie Hamilton‘s game has fallen off recently. He was on the ice for all three even strength Nashville goals in the double overtime loss on Sunday. Twice he was burnt by Luke Kunin, once making an errant pass that led to an odd-man rush for the Predators.
The Carolina power play has also struggled, where Hamilton is their leader. They went 0-for-4 on Sunday, despite a 61-shot effort on Preds goalie Juuse Saros in the game overall. They had chances and got their shots, but the power play has been rather punchless overall. Hamilton is tied with Sebastian Aho for 23 shots, so it feels like that element of his game will come, and if it were on the power play that would be a gigantic spark.
The Hurricanes offense will come around most likely, even pitted against a red-hot Saros. The defense, though, can’t afford to be making mistakes like Hamilton has — especially on the overtime winner when he was caught under the goal line — if the offense isn’t all the way there.
Slavin returning would solve plenty of defensive issues, but in the instance he isn’t ready for Game 5 — or frankly, even if he is — Hamilton needs to play a bigger role in shutting down the Predators.
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Slavin’s presence in the slot has been greatly missed as Nashville has gotten shots through to Alex Nedeljkovic without a ton of difficulty. That’s an area he’d help greatly.
“There’s no question, he’s one of the best players in the league,” Hurricanes head coach Rod Brind’Amour said after Game 4 “You take him out of anybody’s lineup and you’re going to miss him, especially when you play basically another game, it’s going to show up. So it’s part of it, but injuries are a big part of playoff hockey, and I think our guys have stepped up great that have had to fill in his shoes.”
Two double overtime losses aren’t indicative of a Hurricanes team playing poorly overall; often, overtimes can be a crapshoot, especially the longer they go. But that’s a ton of ice time for everyone, and losing two of those is going to affect morale.
Nashville has been battling since about midway through the regular season when it looked like they were destined to be trade deadline sellers. They’ve gotten to this point because they can compete, and these type of moments don’t phase them.
Carolina had the best record in the division for a reason, though. They have the pieces there to make a legitimate Stanley Cup run, but those pieces have to play at their best.
Pesce played 79:43 minutes combined in the two overtimes. Obviously that’s unpredictable but also unsustainable. At some point, Slavin’s return is going to be huge. If that’s not for Game 5, they’re gonna need someone like Hamilton to do more.
HURRICANES VS. PREDATORS (Series tied 2-2) – series livestream link
Game 1: Hurricanes 5, Predators 2
Game 2: Hurricanes 3, Predators 0
Game 3: Predators 5, Hurricanes 4 (2OT)
Game 4: Predators 4, Hurricanes 3 (2OT)
Tuesday, May 25: Predators at Hurricanes, 8 p.m. ET (CNBC)
Thursday, May 27: Hurricanes at Predators, 9:30 p.m. ET (NBCSN)
*Saturday, May 29: Predators at Hurricanes TBD
Marisa Ingemi is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop her a line at email@example.com or follow her on Twitter @Marisa_Ingemi.