If this wasn't enough for Nashville Predators, what will be against Carolina Hurricanes? | Estes
RALEIGH, N.C. – Blame those lineup choices if you want to, Nashville Predators fans.
I know you want to.
It's alluring to think it's that simple. Because if it’s that simple, then the cause of Monday night’s 5-2 loss to the Carolina Hurricanes in Game 1 can be quickly corrected.
Maybe it’ll be as easy as sliding Eeli Tolvanen or Nick Cousins or Rocco Grimaldi or Dante Fabbro or Matt Benning back onto the ice to tilt this series the other direction.
John Hynes – and all of Smashvlle – should hope that's the case. They should hope that the lineup was the problem.
But he doesn’t think it was. For that matter, neither do I.
"Guys, look, we came in and it's 2-2 going into the third period,” Hynes told reporters when pressed after the game. "You have to make lineup decisions. ... We were physical. It was hard. It was a hard-fought game. It's 2-2 going into the third period. …
"We can talk all about the lineup all we want, but we played physical. We played hard. It was a competitive game. We didn't find a way to win.”
He’s right. The Preds weren’t awful. They really did play physically and hard – but they didn’t do either of those things better than the opponent. As an intense game slogged along with 12,000 Caniacs howling, the Hurricanes were able to wear down the Preds, physically and mentally. They imposed their will. They pushed and pressured the Preds into mistakes and then pounced when they happened, which is what Stanley Cup contenders do in the playoffs.
Which leads me to the part that can’t be explained away conveniently:
The Canes were just better.
More difficult to solve that one. Before Monday night's game, the jumbotron at PNC Arena showed a tale of the tape matching the teams' stats this season in power play, penalty kill, faceoffs, goals and goals against. The Canes were better in all five.
So it was hardly a shock that a heavy favorite would win Game 1 at home. It’s just the way it transpired didn't inspire confidence that the Preds are going to find a way to win four times against a superior foe.
While I didn’t entirely agree with Hynes’ lineup decisions Monday night, I understood them. The Preds spent the past few days talking about grit and toughness. Using Mathieu Olivier and Erik Gudbranson spoke to that. Hynes wanted size, stacking physicality at the expense of skill.
This might not have been the Preds’ best strategy. But Hynes thought it was, which was telling. It wasn’t something a coach does in an equal matchup. An overly defensive approach seemed more like a bid to try to steal one.
Except the Canes were too good for that. They were more skilled and proved to be more physical, too. They had more shots on goal in every period, ending up with a 38-24 edge. They also were credited with 56 hits to the Preds’ 49 despite being on the offensive end more often.
"Part of the playoffs is just doing it harder for longer,” Hynes said. “I thought we had stretches where we did it in the game, and they had more stretches."
If you can’t outmuscle the Canes and you can’t outmaneuver them, then what can you do to beat them?
That's a tough question for the Preds entering Game 2. The fear after Monday night is that their best shot simply won't be enough.
The Preds threw their punches, but the Canes punched back with authority. They didn’t bully the Preds, but they won this game more than the Preds lost it.
Not to say the Preds were perfect. They weren't. They’ll have to be a lot closer to it, though, to get past these Canes. And I’m not sure that’s a level they have in them.
They can improve, sure. They can do more offensively and be cleaner with sloppy penalties. But how much harder can they play for 60 minutes? How much more physical can they be?
It’s the tough-guy traits that have formed the Preds’ identity under Hynes during this odd, turnaround season. Can’t be surprised that he’d opt to lean that way in the season’s most important game to date.
It didn’t work.
But against these Canes, what will?
Reach Gentry Estes at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @Gentry_Estes.