The Carolina Hurricanes go into their opening round Stanley Cup playoff series against the Nashville Predators as big favorites, and for good reason.
As the clubs look to kick off the series Monday in Raleigh, N.C., the Hurricanes (36-12-8, 80 points) claimed the Central Division regular-season title, while the Predators (31-23-2, 64 points) required an incredible second-half run to make the playoffs.
Moreover, Carolina claimed six of the eight head-to-head meetings, outscoring Nashville by a 24-17 in those victories.
That said, both clubs don’t need to be reminded that the Predators won the final two meetings, including a 5-0 game in their season finale.
“We played them four or five times without their full lineup. You could tell it was a big difference,” Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour pointed out. “When they got healthy, they kind of got their game going. I think they were a little bit all over the place, maybe because of the injuries. All of a sudden, the last month or month and a half, that was the team everyone expected to see from the get-go.”
Even so, the Hurricanes have big expectations of themselves, especially after finishing third overall in the league during the regular season.
“Our main goal is to win the Stanley Cup, and whatever we need to do to get there and whatever we need to say to each other, that’s our main objective,” forward Jordan Martinook said. “It doesn’t matter if you’re the underdog or top dog, we’ve got one thing on our mind.”
“The expectation here is to win,” Brind’Amour added. “We’ve got a long road ahead of us, and it’s going to be a huge challenge, but that’s the expectation.”
Despite where they finished in the standings, the Predators are hardly also-rans. They went 20-7-1 in the second half of the campaign and rocketed into a playoff spot by winning seven of their last 10 games.
“We’ve been, more or less, playing playoff hockey for the last two months because our playoff lives were on the line, but there’s got to be another level,” associate captain Ryan Ellis said. “Playoffs always bring out the best in everybody and the intensity and the passion in the game, and I think everyone’s level, both teams, will be raised even more.”
That mindset is an important lesson for the Predators to heed. It would be easy for them to take a step back because of the elation and sense of accomplishment just making it to the playoffs.
“Part of (preparing for the series) is understanding how we play, the mentality we play with, the consistency level that we play with, not get too high, not get too low, but the readiness we need to be able to play with,” head coach John Hynes said. “That’s the focus. It’s not so much what happened in the regular season. That’s in the past. Both teams have reset, the regular season is over, we both have the same amount of time to get ready for the series, so our focus has to be on not what happened. I think we’ve taken the lessons from that, but now it’s an opportunity for us to get even better.”
–Field Level Media