Special teams advantage should help ‘Canes past Nashville in 1st round of NHL playoffs

Carolina Hurricanes

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – The inter-divisional nature of the pandemic-shortened regular season means that there are plenty of past meetings between the Carolina Hurricanes and first-round opponent Nashville Predators.

If the eight games between the Hurricanes and Predators yielded any helpful trends, it’s that the ‘Canes go into the series with a distinct advantage on special teams.

Nashville’s power play in the regular season was the worst of all the 16 teams to make the playoffs. The Predators converted on about 17 percent of their man advantages. That included a stretch of just three goals on 41 chances over the last 16 games of the campaign.

Carolina, meanwhile, finished third in the NHL in killing off more than 85 percent of penalties. The ‘Canes also don’t take a lot of penalties. They gave up three power-play opportunities or fewer in 11 of their last 16 games. The Predators — who beat Carolina twice to end the season, including a 5-0 win on Monday — had seven cracks at the power play, but only scored once on Carolina’s penalty kill in the last two games of the campaign.

And Nashville’s penalty kill isn’t any better. It also ranked worst of the playoff teams over the 56-game regular season. Opposite of them will be a ‘Canes power play that finished second only to Edmonton.

Carolina’s man advantage slowed a tad at the end of the season. It went four games without scoring, going 0-for-9. Still, there was a stretch in March in which the ‘Canes scored a power-play goal in 8-of-9 games. That included going 7-for-12 over three games against the Predators.

That said, the overwhelming majority of games are played at 5-on-5. The Predators made it this far in spite of their subpar special teams thanks, in part, to their defense and goaltending. Juuse Saros struggled early in the season, especially in February as he had a .880 save percentage in seven starts. He rebounded from that by winning five of seven starts in March and notching a .963 save percentage to help Nashville get back in the hunt for the final playoff position in the division.

As a team, the Predators finished with the fourth-fewest goals against at even strength. The ‘Canes were 16th in the league in scoring at 5-on-5.

The ‘Canes might have some work to do to solve the Predators at even strength, especially as games tend to tighten up in the postseason. But the chasm between the two in special teams should provide plenty of opportunities for the ‘Canes to punch their ticket to the next round.

Game 1 of the series is Monday at 8 p.m. from PNC Arena in Raleigh.

Alyssa Rae’s prediction: Carolina in 5

Michael Prunka’s prediction: Carolina in 6

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