Lightning vs. Hurricanes: 5 Things to know about their Second Round series

Lightning vs. Hurricanes: 5 Things to know about their Second Round series
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The Second Round of the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs began on Saturday. Today, we preview the matchup between the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Carolina Hurricanes.

LIGHTNING VS. HURRICANESseries livestream link

Game 1Sun. May 30: Lightning at Hurricanes, 5 p.m. ET (NBCSN)
Game 2: Tues. June 1: Lightning at Hurricanes, 7:30 p.m. ET (NBCSN)
Game 3: Thurs. June 3: Hurricanes at Lightning, 8 p.m. ET (USA Network)
Game 4: Sat. June 5: Hurricanes at Lightning, 4 p.m. ET (USA Network)
*Game 5: Tues. June 8: Lightning at Hurricanes TBD
*Game 6: Thurs. June 10: Hurricanes at Lightning TBD
*Game 7: Sat. June 12: Lightning at Hurricanes TBD

1. Defending champion vs. rising upstarts

On paper, the Lightning and Hurricanes look really close — you can easily make an argument for both teams.

But from a sheer reputation and experience standpoint, the Lightning tower over the Hurricanes. Maybe that explains why the Hurricanes tweeted out an amusing but maybe not acting-like-you’ve-been-there tweet after eliminating the Predators:

Of course, the Lightning are defending Stanley Cup champions, while the Hurricanes won their sole Cup during that wild and woolly 2005-06 season.

It’s foolish to act like the Hurricanes could pass for an unproven team even along the lines of that 2005-06 bunch. They’ve made the playoffs three seasons in a row, won the competitive Central Division title remarkably comfortably, and even made it to the 2019 Eastern Conference Final.

Still, it seems like they’ve stumbled every time they’ve attempted to take that next step from very good to a truly great contender. Just look at those last two series against the Bruins as growing pains, particularly Carolina getting swept in that 2019 Eastern Conference Final.

When you break down the Lightning vs. the Hurricanes by their biggest/best-on-best matchups, you can boil quite a few of those arguments to many believing just a bit more in the more established Bolts. Maybe advancing past the Lightning in the Second Round would finally convince remaining doubters that the Hurricanes are for real?

Plenty having been waiting a while for this breakthrough.

2. Nikita Kucherov is still Nikita Kucherov

Heading into the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs, it was perfectly reasonable to question whether Kucherov could jump right into action after missing the entire regular season.

Maybe rust is overrated?

Through that six-game series against the Panthers, Kucherov scored three goals and eight assist for 11 points. He absolutely roasted the Cats on the power play, generating seven PPP.

Aside from an injury scare during that series, Kucherov looked every bit the Kucherov who narrowly missed winning a Conn Smythe last year, and easily won the 2018-19 Hart Trophy.

Few teams could even dream of going strength vs. strength vs. the Lightning, yet you don’t need to destroy all logic to imagine the Hurricanes pulling that off. That said, Kucherov tilts the scales, giving the Lightning’s absolute best that nudge over some brilliant Hurricanes players, including a dynamite top line of Sebastian Aho, Teuvo Teravainen, and Andrei Svechnikov.

3. Deadly Lightning power play vs. Hurricanes’ ‘power kill’

The 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs won’t provide the sort of sample sizes to make sweeping generalizations, especially only as the Second Round begins.

That said, those early playoff numbers capture one of the key battles of this series: the Lightning’s lethal power play (40% success rate this postseason) vs. the Hurricanes’ penalty kill (88.5% in playoffs).

It’s tempting to paint this as hockey’s answer to the irresistible force vs. the immovable object.

Merely picture the Lightning’s power play talent, and you don’t need to tax your imagination to understand why they’re so deadly. Kucherov and Steven Stamkos have carved up penalty kill units for years. Victor Hedman and Brayden Point give the Bolts additional weapons that make things sometime seem unfair.

For all of the Panthers’ strengths, they weren’t nearly as well-equipped to make a top power play unit uncomfortable like the Hurricanes could vs. the Lightning. For one thing, Carolina’s PK is sometimes referred to as a “power kill” because of its ability to create shorthanded chances.

Most importantly, that unit is adept at limiting chances from the most dangerous areas of the ice. Consider this peak at their PK defense, via Hockey Viz:

4. Bigger names on defense, in net aren’t guaranteed to be better

Ask most hockey fans in a do-or-die situation, and they’d probably pick Andrei Vasilevskiy as their goalie in this series, and Victor Hedman if they were drafting defensemen. When we look back at this Lightning-Hurricanes Second Round series, those could easily be sound assumptions.

But the gap might end up being smaller than people realize — and new stars may be truly established on a mainstream level.

Saying that Dougie Hamilton could very well be as good as (or even better than) Victor Hedman might sound like an insult. Instead, it’s meant to underscore how outstanding Hamilton has been. Year by year, Hamilton’s gradually earned more Norris Trophy consideration, but there are some whose opinions of the defensemen feel as ancient as a Renaissance painting.

Sometimes people need to be convinced on the grand scale of the playoffs. That’s fine, just don’t be surprised.

Consider how Hamilton’s game holds up on a side-by-side comparison via Evolving Hockey over multiple seasons:

Perhaps the most surprising development could end up being that Alex Nedeljkovic might be able to more-or-less hang with possible Vezina winner Andrei Vasilevskiy.

While Hamilton’s delivered for years, there’s no denying that Nedeljkovic is largely unproven. Nedeljkovic, 25, only has 29 regular-season and six playoff games under his belt. Vasilevskiy’s been a workhorse whose numbers have maintained under big-time pressure.

But you can’t totally dismiss that Nedeljkovic has done what’s asked of a goalie: simply perform when given the opportunity. He went 15-5-3 with a .932 save percentage during the regular season, and maintained much of that brilliance during the playoffs (.922 save percentage, didn’t waver over repeated overtime challenges).

Again, if it’s one or the other, you’re probably choosing Hedman over Hamilton, and especially Vasilevskiy over Nedeljkovic. In the end, it could end up being close, or even end going Carolina’s way.

5. Prediction: Lightning in 7

Could the Hurricanes cement their true contender status by eliminating the Lightning? They certainly could.

But the Lightning are the defending champions for a reason, and it’s easy to forget that they didn’t have Kucherov until the First Round. Their best are just a slight bit better, and it’s easier to trust Vasilevskiy in net.

Also: the Lightning might be a bit more rested going into this series vs. the Hurricanes. Nashville forced Carolina into OT in four straight playoff games, including two double-OT contests. Tampa Bay went to OT once, and Ryan Lomberg ended that in less than six minutes.

With stars like Connor McDavid, Sidney Crosby, and Alex Ovechkin failing to make the Second Round, hockey fans don’t always get to see “juggernaut” matchups. Hurricanes – Lightning is the sort of series fans clamor for heading into a season, so savor this.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

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    Bruins set NHL record with 12 straight home wins to start season

    Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports
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    BOSTON — The Boston Bruins set the NHL record for most home victories to start a season with their 12th straight, topping the Carolina Hurricanes 3-2 in overtime with a power-play goal from David Pastrnak.

    The Bruins broke the mark of 11 that was set by the 1963-64 Chicago Blackhawks and equaled by the Florida Panthers last season.

    “That felt awesome,” Bruins first-year coach Jim Montgomery said. “We talked about it after the second (period) going into the third. There’s been a lot of great teams in this league and you’re able to set a precedent, break a record. It’s pretty special and it doesn’t happen if those guys don’t believe in themselves like they do.”

    Boston, which trailed 2-0 late in the second period, tied it with 9:33 left in regulation when David Krejci scored his second of the game on a shot from the right point.

    “It’s never fun being down going into the third, you’re sitting in here (in the locker room) trying to figure it out,” Krejci said. “You want to come out and do the job, something special on the line. It’s hard to win in this league. To get 12 in a row at home is pretty special.”

    In overtime, Carolina was playing shorthanded after being called for too many men on the ice when Pastrnak one-timed a pass from Brad Marchand inside the far post from above the left circle.

    “It was a big win for us, obviously, coming from behind,” Pastrnak said.

    Jesperi Kotkaniemi and Stefan Noesen each scored a power-play goal for Carolina, and Pyotr Kochetkov made 38 saves. The Hurricanes lost their fifth straight.

    In a rematch of last spring’s opening-round playoff series that the Hurricanes won in seven games, Carolina shutout the NHL’s highest scoring team for nearly two periods and jumped ahead a pair of power-play goals in the opening period.

    “We took too many penalties. That’s hurting us right now,” Kotaniemi said. “I think 5-on-5 we’re doing a really good job. We started good tonight and couldn’t keep that up.”

    Boston’s tying goal was originally disallowed because of goaltender interference on Nick Foligno but overturned on a coach’s challenge after it was ruled that he was nudged into the crease by Carolina defenseman Brett Pesce.

    Boston starting goaltender Linus Ullmark made 28 saves but had to leave with 13:03 left in the third period with an undisclosed upper-body injury. Teammate Connor Clifton had jumped on him to block a shot during a scramble. Jeremy Swayman made six stops in relief.

    Carolina’s Noesen scored at 6:34 in to make it 1-0. And with five minutes left in the period, Kotkaniemi collected the puck near the side of the net after Seth Jarvis‘ shot bounced off the back glass and slipped it inside the post at 15:05.

    Krejci scored for Boston with 31 seconds left in the second.

    Boston came in with a league-high 82 goals in 20 games (4.10 per game), but it was held to relatively few chances despite getting a 5-on-3 power-play advantage early on.

    TAKE NOTE

    The Bruins honored captain Patrice Bergeron, who recorded his 1,000th career point when the team was on the road against Tampa Bay, with a message on the Jumbotron. The crowd gave him a standing ovation.

    Bergeron became just the fourth Bruin to reach the mark, joining Hall of Famers Ray Bourque (1,506), Johnny Bucyk (1,339) and Phil Esposito (1,012).

    UP NEXT

    Hurricanes: Host the Calgary Flames.

    Bruins: Host the Tampa Bay Lightning.

    Predators postpone 2 games due to Nashville water main break

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    NASHVILLE, Tenn. —  The Nashville Predators postponed two home games because of a water main break that soaked their downtown arena.

    Hours after the Predators decided they couldn’t play against the Colorado Avalanche, the team announced it also postponed the game against the Columbus Blue Jackets. Makeup dates for the two games will be announced later.

    The NHL said the water main break that occurred “significantly impacted the event level” of Bridgestone Arena. Team locker rooms and the ice surface are on the event level.

    Predators President and CEO Sean Henry told reporters that the water in the event level ranged from 3 inches to 3 feet.

    “We’re assessing it right now. We’re remediating it,” Henry said. “The good thing is, the water got shut off, the city responded in a pretty fast manner. I don’t think anyone is ready for things like this the Friday after Thanksgiving.”

    Video posted by a WTVF-TV reporter shows the water puddled up on the main floor’s concourse area and the team store. The team was forced to close the store until further notice, pointing shoppers online for Black Friday specials.

    The Predators’ next home game is now scheduled for Tuesday against the Anaheim Ducks.

    The water issue also resulted in a switch to a different venue for a college hockey game between Northeastern and Western Michigan. They also had been scheduled to play at Bridgestone Arena, a game that was moved to Ford Ice Center Bellevue.

    Rangers trade Ryan Reaves to Wild for 5th-round pick in 2025

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    ST. PAUL, Minn. — The New York Rangers traded enforcer Ryan Reaves to the Minnesota Wild for a 2025 fifth-round pick.

    Reaves had been a healthy scratch for eight of the past 12 games for the Rangers. He gives struggling Minnesota some extra muscle and a veteran presence.

    The 35-year-old is signed through only the rest of this season at a $1.75 million salary cap hit. He has no points and 12 penalty minutes in 12 games of his second season with New York.

    Reaves has played in 869 NHL regular-season and playoff games for the St. Louis Blues, Pittsburgh Penguins, Vegas Golden Knights and Rangers. He was with the Golden Knights during their inaugural season in 2017-18 when the reached the Stanley Cup Final.

    Toronto’s Morgan Rielly placed on long-term injured reserve

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    TORONTO — The Toronto Maple Leafs placed defenseman Morgan Rielly on long-term injured reserve with a knee injury.

    Rielly was hurt in a collision with with New York forward Kyle Palmieri early in the third period of Toronto’s 3-2 overtime loss to the Islanders at home.

    Rielly has no goals and 16 assists in 20 games this season and is averaging 23 minutes of ice time.

    Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe said following practice that the 28-year-old Rielly doesn’t need surgery, adding there’s no firm timeline for his return beyond the minimum 24 days and 10 games required for going on long-term injured reserve.

    Toronto’s defense is also missing Jake Muzzin with a neck injury and T.J. Brodie with an injured oblique.