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If the Carolina Hurricanes and their fans thought the will-he-or-won’t-he worries about whether Jaccob Slavin would play were behind them once they saw him on the ice Monday, they’ll have to think again. Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour said Tuesday it may be that way for as long as the Hurricanes are alive in the playoffs, including Wednesday’s Game 2.
“Slavin’s going to be dealing with something until probably we get finished,” Brind’Amour said. “It’s just the way it is. Hopefully he’s good to go, but he might be a game-time decision for a while yet.”
Brind’Amour admitted after Monday’s 5-2 win over the Nashville Predators that he still wasn’t sure that morning whether Slavin would play because of an undisclosed lower-body issue, but Slavin ended up playing more than 21 minutes and taking — and dealing — his share of hits.
“He was a warrior tonight,” Brind’Amour said afterward.
While Cedric Paquette remained out, Brock McGinn also returned from injury and played a very effective 13:57 for a very effective fourth line.
“Brock’s more just rust,” Brind’Amour said. “He was fine. He’s pretty much over his injury. You would hope that wouldn’t come up at all moving forward.”
Room for improvement
The Hurricanes managed to score five goals despite going 0-for-4 on the power play, no small achievement in a playoff opener. They had their chances, and Predators goalie Juuse Saros played very well, but it’s one area where there’s room for improvement in Game 2.
The Hurricanes had six scoring chances on 15 shot attempts — seven on goal — on their four power plays, but only one high-danger chance per Natural Stat Trick.
“We did have some good looks,” Brind’Amour said. “We’ve got to keep building on that. There’s areas where we’ve got to get better for sure. I liked some of it.”
Unlike some postseasons past, when the power play was a known liability or at least not a known strength, the Hurricanes had the second-ranked man-advantage in the NHL this season, converting at an 25.6 percent clip, the best rate in franchise history.
Goalie choice ‘not that difficult’
Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour said the decision to start rookie Alex Nedeljkovic in goal over veteran Petr Mrazek was a relatively easy one. Nedeljkovic fought the puck at times early, but settled in to stop the last 11 shots he faced over the final 31 minutes and change.
“It really was not that difficult,” Brind’Amour said. “He’s earned the right to start. Yeah, Petr is our guy but he’s had a lot of time off. Not that I was questioning whether or not he could do it, but it gave Ned an opportunity. It felt like he earned the start.”
Mrazek did make one glove save: Of a deflected puck that flew into the Hurricanes’ bench.
Nedeljkovic became the first rookie goalie in franchise history to win his postseason debut — Cam Ward, in 2006, lost in relief in his debut before winning his first start — stopping 22 of the 24 shots he faced. Filip Forsberg had an open look from the slot on Nashville’s first goal and the second, by former Hurricanes forward Erik Haula, took a deflection off Hurricanes defenseman Jani Hakanpaa in front.
“He’s been doing that all year and tonight was no different,” Hurricanes captain Jordan Staal said. “I thought he did a great job of handling the puck when he needed to, making some big saves and slowing the game down when they were getting some zone time. He was solid all the way through.”
Haula, who had 22 points in 41 games with the Hurricanes last season before they traded him away in the Vincent Trocheck deal, carried on a running argument with Martin Necas and was booed by the home fans every time he touched the puck in the latter half of the game, including during an intermission TV interview.
“I don’t know, I must be doing something right,” Haula said Monday night. “Honestly, it’s just awesome to have fans back in the building. That booing and yelling all these things, honestly, I love it.”
Brind’Amour, on Tuesday, said he was all for it.
“I think it’s great,” Brind’Amour said. “(Haula) can handle that. I think he likes that. It adds a little emotion when the fans get into it. It’s fine. It adds a little fun.”
Staal nominated for King Clancy
The Hurricanes nominated Staal for the NHL’s King Clancy Trophy, which goes to the player “who best exemplifies leadership qualities on and off the ice and has made a noteworthy humanitarian contribution in his community.” Ron Francis won the King Clancy with the Hurricanes in 2002. Staal was also the Hurricanes’ nominee in 2017 and 2020 and Eric Staal was a multiple King Clancy nominee during his time with the Hurricanes.
Jordan Staal was earlier this season nominated for the Masterton Trophy, which honors perseverance and dedication to hockey, by the Carolina chapter of the Professional Hockey Writers Association. He was an NHL finalist for that award in 2018.
Game 4 has been set for 2:30 p.m. in Nashville on NBCSN. ... Steven Lorentz became the ninth player in Hurricanes history (since relocation) to record a point in his playoff debut. … With the Chicago Wolves’ AHL season over, the Hurricanes on Monday recalled goalie Antoine Bibeau, defenseman Maxime Lajoie and forward Ryan Suzuki to practice with the team during the playoffs, the traditional “black aces.” Suzuki was the Hurricanes’ first-round pick in 2019.