Alex Nedeljkovic is making the most of his opportunity.
Carolina’s rookie goaltender made 32 saves to blank the Nashville Predators 3-0 Wednesday in Raleigh, N.C., as the Hurricanes took a 2-0 lead in their first-round, best-of-seven series.
Game 3 will be Friday night in Nashville.
“It starts with the hot goalie,” said Hurricanes forward Sebastian Aho, who scored twice Wednesday. “You’ve got the confidence to put the pressure on their players. We know if they make a play, ‘Ned’ will bail us out. It’s huge when you have a hot goalie. It’s just fun to watch him play right now.”
The 25-year-old Nedeljkovic made his first career playoff start Monday in a series-opening 5-2 win.
He was under frequent pressure in Game 2, as the Hurricanes led only 1-0 until Aho scored an empty-net goal with 53 seconds remaining. Warren Foegele added a goal in the final seconds for the Central Division champions.
Nedeljkovic helped the Hurricanes kill off seven penalties.
“It seemed like more than seven,” Nedeljkovic said. “They’re not always going to be pretty. “(Wednesday) there was a lot of sacrifices around the board there. Guys were blocking shots, guys were diving to make plays, get pucks out — it wasn’t our best, but it was a really good effort, a really gutsy effort.”
Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour said he was impressed by Nedeljkovic’s demeanor.
“Obviously, (he) made some big saves at critical times,” Brind’Amour said. “All the penalties we took, the stress level goes way up. But he looked pretty calm in there. He was huge.”
Nedeljkovic is the second rookie goalie in Carolina history to post a postseason shutout. Cam Ward had two in the Hurricanes’ 2006 Stanley Cup-winning season.
“When Cam came in, we didn’t feel like he was a rookie in (the locker room). I don’t think the guys think Ned is a rookie in there,” Brind’Amour said. “It’s an exciting story to talk about, but he’s been around a long time, and he’s been here all year. Guys have a lot of faith in him or else he wouldn’t be in there.”
The shutout might have been even more surprising considering the Hurricanes were without defenseman Jaccob Slavin, who was out with a lower-body injury. Brind’Amour said Slavin will be a game-time decision for Game 3.
Nashville goalie Juuse Saros made 28 saves Wednesday, keeping his team in the game until the final minute.
“Juice will be Juice,” Nashville forward Ryan Johansen said. “He’s a stud; he’s one of the hardest-working kids in the business. We count on him to keep doing his thing, and he was great.”
The Predators were without forward Calle Jarnkrok due to a non-COVID illness. Jarnkrok is considered day-to-day.
The Predators will look to improve a power play that is 0-for-10 in the series.
“We were a better team than we were on the first night,” Predators coach John Hynes said. “We obviously know the power play has got to be better. But I think there’s a lot of positives going out of this game and then coming home.”
–Field Level Media