NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — John Hynes saw what he saw in game two Wednesday night in Carolina. He saw a Predators team that gave a better effort and was more disciplined than they were in game one. That’s all true.
But the bottom line is that the Preds failed to score in a shutout loss that was 1-0 turned 3-0 with two final minute goals that now gives Carolina a 2-0 edge in this best-of-seven first-round series.
This was a game the underdog Predators needed and could have had. Juuse Saros, much like he did for the second half of the season, stood on his head in the crease. He stopped 28 of the first 29 shots he saw, only allowing a Sebastian Aho one-timer off a sweet Andrei Svechnikov pass early in the first period following a Mattias Ekholm pass.
Saros was good enough for the Preds to steal this game. But they couldn’t because they couldn’t get anything going on their own power play.
Seven chances. 14 minutes of the man advantage. Nothing doing.
Did Saros deserve a better fate? Was this a game the Preds needed to win with him delivering spectacular save after spectacular save? Joe Rexrode of The Athletic asked the question.
“Did you ask if our goalie stole the game or their goalie?” Hynes asked seeking clarification. Once he got it, he simply said, “I thought our team played well.”
Not well enough. Because in playoff hockey there is very little margin for error, especially against a team as talented as Carolina.
The Hurricanes' lack of discipline gifted the Predators an opportunity in game two, but the power play struggled to even get into the Carolina zone and get set up. The Canes got as many chances shorthanded as the Preds did with the extra attacker.
If he liked the five-on-five play so much, maybe Hynes can decline Carolina’s penalties in game three Friday in Nashville.
So as the Predators come home when can they hang their hat on? After a stirring run of 20 wins in 28 games to reach the playoffs, they’ve suffered back-to-back frustrating losses. A mistake-filled 5-2 loss in game one and an opportunity missed in game two.
What does Hynes want his team centered on in its play going into game three given the nearly must-win stakes? It was my turn to ask the question.
“I think the last two questions - did we watch the same game?” Hynes asked to me and the rest of the media contingent on Zoom. “I think when you look at the hockey game we played a pretty good game. Their goaltender made some really good saves, we got good looks. I think when you look at shot attempts, you look at shots, offensive zone time, you look at how the game was played. We’ve got to do a better job on the power play, but I think the last two questions - I think there were a lot of good things to come in the game. We’re in a series. We were better than we were the first night. We obviously know the power play’s got to be better, but I think there’s a lot of positive going out of this game and then coming home.”
That was Hynes’ optimistic perspective on what happened in game two in Raleigh. And, it’s worth pointing out, that Hynes and these Predators were counted out by everyone in mid-March when they were 10 points out of a playoff spot. This team, and its feisty coach, won’t quit on this series. That much seems clear.
But the reality is the series shifts to Smashville Friday with the Predators’ backs against the wall. They need Saros to continue his Vezina Trophy form. They need the five-on-five play to continue to play well. But, ultimately, they’ve got to find ways to score, at even strength and on the power play.
They’ll get a big boost from a gold-clad crowd of 12,135 - the most to fill Bridgestone Arena since March of 2020. But the excitement will be tempered a little bit by the fact this series is teetering on the brink.
Whether Hynes wants to acknowledge it or not, Preds fans watched the first two games of this series in Carolina and saw a team that wasn’t quite good enough to win.