The Carolina Hurricanes and Tampa Bay Lightning will play Game 1 of the best-of-7 Stanley Cup Second Round at PNC Arena in Raleigh, North Carolina, on Sunday.
The Lightning defeated the Florida Panthers in six games in first round, advancing with a 4-0 win Wednesday. The Hurricanes defeated the Nashville Predators in six games with a 4-3 overtime win Thursday.
Tampa Bay and Carolina each went 4-3-1 in the regular-season series against each other. The Hurricanes outscored the Lightning, 18-17.
“I think it might be tighter in this series than the other series (against Nashville) based on how they defend,” Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour said. “Obviously, they have some high power, so we’re going to have to try to defend them and shut them down. That’s going to be the key. I think the difference is going to be, you’ll see, if they get a rush opportunity it’s going to look at lot different. We have to make sure that we don’t give up those.”
Rookie goalie Alex Nedeljkovic will start for the Hurricanes after starting all six games against the Predators. He had a 2.22 goals-against average and .922 save percentage.
Andrei Vasilevskiy will make his 59th consecutive postseason start for the Lightning. He has started every playoff game since May 16, 2016, going 35-23 with a 2.41 GAA and .920 save percentage.
“Carolina checks extremely well, they don’t give you a ton of space,” Lightning forward Brayden Point said. “They have a ton of talent to score. You have to be on your game. System-wise they play a little different than Florida does, but another extremely hard matchup.”
Teams that win Game 1 are 495-224 (68.8 percent) winning a best-of-7 NHL playoff series, including 5-2 in the first round this season.
Here are 3 keys for Game 1:
1. Nedeljkovic’s big test
The rookie will face a tough challenge against the Lightning, especially when the Hurricanes are shorthanded.
Tampa Bay was 40.0 percent on the power play (8-for-20) against the Panthers, with Nikita Kucherov scoring a point on seven of the goals (three goals, four assists).
The Hurricanes were 88.5 percent on the penalty kill against the Predators, going 23-for-26. But the Lightning’s power play, with Kucherov, forwards Steven Stamkos, Alex Killorn and Point, and defenseman Victor Hedman presents a much different challenge.
“Things happen so fast here, if you’re a split second behind, the puck is going to be in the net,” Nedeljkovic said. “So it’s just trying to keep a clear head as best you can, and just be able to react as quick as possible.”
2. Lightning’s grind line
Tampa Bay’s third line of Barclay Goodrow, Yanni Gourde and Blake Coleman likely will get the assignment of shutting down Carolina’s top two playmakers, forwards Sebastian Aho and Teuvo Teravainen, who will be joined by Brock McGinn on the top line in Game 1.
Goodrow missed the first five games of the first round with an upper-body injury, but returned in Game 6 and was back with Gourde and Coleman. He had three shots on goal, five shot attempts, five hits, a takeaway and a blocked shot in 16:43 of ice time. The Lightning won 4-0, playing their best all-around game of the series.
“You can’t have all Ferraris, sometimes you need a good old-fashioned four-wheel drive Jeep to get you through the mud and that’s what Barclay Goodrow can do for you,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. “He just creates room and space for guys. He’s hard to play against. He’s always getting a piece of you and he’s vital on our penalty kill. It’s not a coincidence that [Game 6] turned out the way it did with him in the lineup.”
3. Slavin’s impact
Hurricanes defenseman Jaccob Slavin is playing through a lower-body injury but practiced Saturday after staying off the ice on off days in the first round.
Whatever is ailing Slavin didn’t impact him in Game 6 against the Predators, when he played 25:42 and had assists on the game-tying and game-winning goal.
Slavin will have to play big minutes in Game 1. He’ll be on the ice against the Lightning’s top power-play unit and likely will see plenty of 5-on-5 time against Tampa Bay’s top line of Kucherov, Point and Ondrej Palat.
Lightning projected lineup
Ondrej Palat — Brayden Point — Nikita Kucherov
Alex Killorn — Anthony Cirelli — Steven Stamkos
Barclay Goodrow — Yanni Gourde — Blake Coleman
Pat Maroon — Tyler Johnson — Ross Colton
Victor Hedman — Jan Rutta
Ryan McDonagh — Erik Cernak
Mikhail Sergachev — David Savard
Scratched: Alex Barre-Boulet, Mitchell Stephens, Daniel Walcott, Fredrik Claesson, Cal Foote, Mathieu Joseph, Luke Schenn, Ben Thomas, Christopher Gibson
Hurricanes projected lineup
Brock McGinn — Sebastian Aho — Teuvo Teravainen
Nino Niederreiter — Vincent Trocheck — Martin Necas
Warren Foegele — Jordan Staal — Andrei Svechnikov
Jordan Martinook — Steven Lorentz — Jesper Fast
Jaccob Slavin — Dougie Hamilton
Brady Skjei — Brett Pesce
Jake Bean — Jani Hakanpaa
Scratched: Cedric Paquette, Morgan Geekie, Jake Gardiner, Maxime Lajoie, Max McCormick, Drew Shore, Ryan Suzuki, Roland McKeown, James Reimer
Brind’Amour said Niederreiter is “questionable, for sure.” The forward left practice Saturday, when Brind’Amour said he “did a little something. I don’t think it’s an issue.” … Paquette, who did not play in the first round, is available. He missed the last six games of the regular season with a lower-body injury. … The Lightning are expected to go with the same lineup they used in Game 6 against Florida.
NHL.com staff writer Tracey Myers contributed to this report