The numbers still favor the Carolina Hurricanes.
But the Nashville Predators have gained some momentum.
Matt Duchene scored at 14:54 of the second overtime Friday night to give the host Predators a 5-4 victory against Carolina in Game 3 of the first round of the NHL’s Central Division playoffs.
The Predators cut the Hurricanes’ lead in the best-of-7 series to two games to one. Game 4 is Sunday in Nashville.
“It feels really good,” Nashville coach John Hynes said. “It’s nice we found a way to win and get ourselves back in the series. For the players, the fans and the organization, it’s a good night.”
The game went back and forth, with the Predators leading 2-1 after the first period and the score tied at 3-3 after two and 4-4 at the end of regulation time. Nashville goalie Juuse Saros made 52 saves to tie a franchise record for a playoff game set by Dan Ellis in 2008.
The winner came when Nashville defenseman Roman Josi flipped the puck high in the air from his own goal line. The puck came down at Carolina’s blue line, where Duchene was able to tip it away from defenseman Jake Bean. Duchene skated in on net and chipped the puck over the glove of Hurricanes rookie goaltender Alex Nedeljkovic.
“Take the good vibes and move forward, and keep going at the task at hand here,” Duchene said.
It was Duchene’s first home playoff game since signing with the Predators in the summer of 2019. Coronavirus restrictions were eased, allowing 12,135 fans into Bridgestone Arena to give Nashville a home-ice advantage.
“It was just amazing to play here at home,” Duchene said. “I was really disappointed last year when we went to the bubble and we didn’t have games here, so best fans in the NHL. It’s just incredible to play here, and yeah, we needed that. It feels good.”
The Predators still have a tough task ahead against the top-seeded Hurricanes. Teams with a 2-1 lead are 362-154 (.702) winning a best-of-seven playoff series and Nashville is winless in 10 attempts when trailing 2-1.
“I think it was another step in the right direction,” Predators forward Filip Forsberg said. “I think from Game 1 we got better to Game 2, and I thought we got better (Friday) and obviously got rewarded with a big win.”
Carolina coach Rod Brind’Amour couldn’t fault his players.
“We played our butts off, played great, we played hard,” Brind’Amour said. “Nashville’s a phenomenal team. I give my guys tons of credit for just sticking with it. We still had great chances to win.”
But Brind’Amour wasn’t happy with the referees, who gave the Predators seven power-play opportunities while the Hurricanes got just three.
“We’re also fighting refs, that’s plain and simple,” Brind’Amour said.
Brind’Amour especially didn’t like a hooking penalty on Max LaJoie at 11:40 of the second overtime.
The Hurricanes were able to kill off the penalty, but Brind’Amour argued it changed the game’s momentum.
“They scored the next shift after because we were out of rotation,” Brind’Amour said. “That’s not how it should go. I didn’t tell them that, but I’m proud of my group because they just battled.”
Hurricanes forward Jordan Staal was fined $5,000 Saturday for a dangerous trip against Nashville forward Luke Kunin in the second period of Game 3.
–Field Level Media