Carolina vs Nashville: Round 1, Free Picks, Odds & Predictions

Nashville Predators vs Carolina Hurricanes
Carolina vs. Nashville, Division Semifinals, May 17, PNC Arena

For the second straight game, the Nashville Predators found a hero in double overtime to tie their series with the Carolina Hurricanes at two victories each. Luke Kunin opened the scoring less than minute into the action then ended the game with 3:50 left in the second overtime to add even more intrigue into this series. The Predators had returned home in need of some momentum after losing two tough road games then gutted out a pair of exciting home wins, giving the series a new vibe as it returns to Carolina on Tuesday for Game 5.

Game 5 (Series tied 2-2)

May 25, 8 p.m., PNC Arena

Luke Kunin was the hero everyone in Nashville was hoping for when he scored a little more than 16 minutes into the second overtime to give the Nashville Predators a 4-3 win over the Carolina Hurricanes in Game 4. Kunin opened the ledger by scoring 57 seconds into a game and his overtime heroics sent the series back to Carolina tied at two wins each. The Predators took an early lead in both the first and second periods only for the Hurricanes to respond in the final two minutes of the frame. In the third, it was Carolina who made an early dent on Brock McGinn’s goal 13 seconds into the stanza, but within three minutes Nashville had tied it before earning its second consecutive double-overtime victory of the series.

The Hurricanes dominated the Predators in the first six games between the teams, but these last six meetings over the past two weeks have been wars. The home team has won each matchup, and Carolina simply has looked far worse in Nashville than playing at home at PNC Arena. The Hurricanes allowed just two goals across two games at home against the Predators and Nashville has scored 17 goals in four games – two regular season and two postseason – at home. What might be most important for Carolina is finding a way to get its best players going again offensively. Sebastian Aho has three goals and five points in this series to lead the Hurricanes, but players like Vincent Trocheck, Andrei Svechnikov, Teuvo Teravainen and Nino Niederreiter have been absent for long stretches. That must change for the Hurricanes to recapture momentum Tuesday night at home and not have to head back to Nashville on the brink of elimination.

There is no way the Predators are in this position without Saros playing exceptional between the pipes. Saros stopped 58 of 61 shots in Game 4 to improve his save percentage in the series to .929 and keep Nashville competitive despite being outshot 61-43 in the game. That discrepancy in shot totals obviously isn’t sustainable for the Predators in the Stanley Cup playoffs, but it is clear that Saros is outdueling Alex Nedeljkovic right now, and that is a major boost for Nashville.  The Predators will also need to bring their home offense on the road with them for Tuesday’s Game 5. Nashville scored just 2.5 goals per game on the road this season compared to 2.9 goals per game at home, which might not seem like much that extra half goal makes a big difference. Carolina lost in regulation just three times at home this season, which means Nashville is going to need all the offense it can get to survive what should be an angry Hurricanes squad. The Predators cannot just rely on Saros to bail them out if the ice starts to tilt in Carolina’s favor.

I do think this is the one series in the NHL playoffs where home-ice advantage is absolutely critical because we’ve seen both teams really respond to the energy from their respective home crowds. Carolina just plays with more swagger on its home ice and the return to PNC Arena on Tuesday is going to make the difference. The Hurricanes were not one of the best home teams in the NHL this season for no reason, and I think that will be on display in Game 5. The top sports betting sites in New Jersey again made the Hurricanes heavy favorites at home, and I honestly don’t blame them despite Nashville holding all the momentum in this series. After two higher scoring games in Nashville, I think this game will be far more like Game 2 when offensive chances were at a premium. Saros is playing too well for me to believe Carolina is going to have an outburst, and Nashville clearly isn’t the same team offensively without its supportive fans. I’ll bet on Carolina to win and under 4.5 total goals for +375 odds as a single parlay wager at the top hockey betting sites in New Jersey.

BET ON CAROLINA HURRICANES TO WIN

Game 6

May 27, TBD, Bridgestone Arena

 

Game 7

May 29, TBD, PNC Arena

 

Game 1

May 17, 8 p.m., PNC Arena

This is yet another series where the two teams played each other to close out the regular season. The Nashville Predators were able to earn their first two wins of the year against the Carolina Hurricanes in those final two games in Nashville. However, the Hurricanes dominated the other six games they played against the Predators, outscoring Nashville 23-9 in those games. Carolina had won five straight before ending the season on a three-game skid while Nashville won seven of its last 10 games to secure its spot in the Stanley Cup playoffs.

The Predators are a team that is built to win with defense, and it has the goalie in Juuse Saros who can carry a team for a round or two. Saros posted a .927 save percentage and 2.28 goals against average in 35 starts this season, overcoming a slow start to the season. In his first 10 appearances this year, Saros had a .882 save percentage and 3.47 goals against average while winning just three times. He won 18 games in his final 26 appearances for the Predators while posting a 1.88 goals against average and .941 save percentage from February 27 onwards. Saros needed to be on top of his game with an offense that scored just 151 goals during the regular season, the fewest of any of the 16 teams that made the NHL playoffs. Defenseman Roman Josi led the team with 33 points and no one scored more than 13 goals this season.

Carolina had seven players exceed 33 points this season as the Hurricanes finished just two points shy of the tie for the most points in this abridged season. If you eliminated the two losses to Nashville in meaningless games for Carolina, the Hurricanes allowed just 2.33 goals per game and scored 3.22 per contest. They had the raw attacking prowess of Sebastian Aho and his 24 goals and 57 points leading the way, and the calmness of Alex Nedeljkovic between the pipes. It was the perfect mix that catapulted the Hurricanes atop at the end of a three-horse race for the top spot in the Central Division. Nedeljkovic was one of the biggest surprises of the season, going from the third goalie to start the year to the unquestioned starter at the end of the season. He made just 23 starts for Carolina, but posted a .932 save percentage and 1.90 goals against average, both of which would have led the league had he qualified by making enough starts.

Normally it is unwise to wager on a team to sweep when making NHL playoffs betting choices, but in this case, I think it’s a risk worth taking. Nashville certainly ended the season playing well, and the Predators should be confident after bashing Carolina twice to end the regular season. But those two games came when the Hurricanes had nothing to play for, and now the stakes are elevated and Carolina is ready to pounce. It is clear the Hurricanes are the better team at forward and on defense, and Nashville only has the edge in goal because of Saros’ playoff experience. The issue for Nashville is it allowed the seventh-most shots in the league this season and that is a tough recipe for success in the postseason. As much as Saros could steal a game for Nashville, he had a .895 save percentage in last year’s playoffs – his first as a starter – and he’ll need to be excellent to beat Carolina. I’m comfortable with the risk in betting on Carolina to sweep at +650 odds, coupling that wager on Nashville to win one game or fewer at +200 odds at the top NHL betting sites in New Jersey.

It’s no surprise that I’m picking Carolina in Monday’s Game 1 considering you need to win the first game if you’re going to sweep the series. The question becomes finding the best value on Carolina to win the opener. We’ll start with the simple bet of Carolina laying 1.5 goals at +152 odds at the top sports betting sites in New Jersey. Five of the Hurricanes’ six wins over the Predators this season came by multiple goals, and Nashville never scored more than two goals in any of those six defeats. The Hurricanes actually held the Predators to just a single goal in their three most recent victories, and given Nashville’s scoring struggles this season, I’m betting on the under 1.5 goals for Nashville at +188 odds. Combining those two stats, I’ll also bet on Carolina to score first and win at +140 odds to round out my wagering on the top hockey betting sites in New Jersey.

BET ON CAROLINA HURRICANES TO WIN

Game 2 (Carolina Hurricanes lead 1-0)

May 19, 8 p.m., PNC Arena

It felt like the Carolina Hurricanes were out to send a statement with that performance in the first game of their Stanley Cup playoffs run. The Nashville Predators might have scored first, and the game might have been tied after two periods, but the Hurricanes weren’t going to stray from the gameplan too much. Carolina was the more physical team with a 56-49 edge in hits and they certainly controlled the offense far more with a 38-24 edge in shots. When all was said and done, Carolina was able to wear down the Predators with a dominant third period to win Game 1 and take the early lead in the series.

Despite the score looking lopsided by the end of the game, there are some positives the Predators can take from Game 1. We saw pieces of the gameplan Nashville utilized to win the final two regular-season games against Carolina, but the Predators were not consistent enough to doing the little things required to be successful. At the top of the list is creating offense because 24 shots is simply not going to cut it in this series, especially Nashville is going to allow almost 40 shots in a 60-minute game. The Predators need to generate more chances and not force Juuse Saros to steal them games because the more pressure that is applied on Saros, the more likely we see periods like the third where Carolina was able to pull away. That starts with generating scoring chances on the power play, which didn’t look menacing in the slightest with just two shots on three power-play opportunities.

What stood out about the Hurricanes that will serve them well in these NHL playoffs is the resiliency they showed throughout the game. Even going down a goal at home in the first period of the first game, Carolina didn’t seem fazed and less than two minutes later was able to tie the game. The same thing happened in the third where the Hurricanes confidence took hold and helped them really differentiate themselves from the Predators. If there is one area the Hurricanes might need to address it’s the power play, which didn’t score on seven shots across four power plays. Carolina had the second-best power play in the NHL during the regular season, but the unit has scored just once in its last 20 opportunities, which might be good enough to beat Nashville but will hurt the Hurricanes in future rounds should they advance.

As we look ahead to Wednesday’s Game 2, I would be shocked to see the Hurricanes be able to score five goals again on this Predators team. Nashville will certainly clean up a lot of its defensive miscues and I expect Saros will have a solid bounceback performance. But that doesn’t mean Carolina won’t dictate the tempo and possess the puck as well as it did in the first game. The top hockey betting sites in New Jersey continue to have Carolina as strong favorites, and there is no reason to believe anything will change on that front. The only difference I expect is that there will be a little bit less scoring, which is why I’m betting on under 4.5 total goals at +210 odds from the top sports betting sites in New Jersey. I’m also going to go to the spread and bet on a multi-goal win for the Hurricanes at +150 odds by betting Carolina laying 1.5 goals.

BET ON CAROLINA HURRICANES TO WIN

Game 3 (Carolina Hurricanes lead 2-0)

May 21, 7 p.m., Bridgestone Arena

Sebastian Aho scored twice and Alex Nedeljkovic made 32 saves to lead the Carolina Hurricanes to a convincing 3-0 win over the Nashville Predators in Game 2. Aho scored on Carolina’s second power-play of the game to open the scoring then added a second goal in the final minute of regulation to double the Hurricanes lead before Carolina added an empty-netter. That power-play goal was the difference in a game that Nashville had every chance to win on the road. The Predators had seven opportunities on the man advantage and threw 10 shots at the net during those power plays, but couldn’t crack Nedeljkovic.

Few teams win games in the Stanley Cup playoffs when they don’t score on seven power-play chances in a game, and Nashville isn’t good enough to squander those opportunities. Juuse Saros made 28 saves, including seven shorthanded bids, to keep the Predators down just a goal for most of the game, but the offense failed him. It has become a pattern in the first two games for Nashville to be competitive in the first two periods behind strong play from Saros before the bottom falls out under the pressure from Carolina. The Predators did force the Hurricanes to block 17 shots and they absorbed the 52 hits from Carolina to create some decent chances. However, Nashville’s lack of offense and poor power play is something that is going to cost it this series if the Predators cannot turn it around Friday at home in Game 3.

Obviously, the Hurricanes cannot continue to play with fire by giving their opponent seven power-play chances, so they will need to stay more disciplined in the future. But Carolina was able to play some offense while down a man, mustering seven shorthanded shots in the win. It’s plausible the Hurricanes willingness to play the body is making a difference because they have been the stronger team in third period in both games. However, the Hurricanes must do a better job asserting dominance and control over the game earlier as to not give Nashville too much confidence. Now that it is hitting the road for the next two games in the NHL playoffs, Carolina has to not only start the game well, but it must demoralize the Predators early. The more Nashville hangs around at home, the more likely it is the Predators gain confidence and start causing problems for the Hurricanes.

I am pleasantly surprised by the odds being offered at the top sports betting site in New Jersey on Game 3. I figured Carolina would be bigger favorites despite the series shifting to Nashville, but that means better value for us as bettors. The top hockey betting sites in New Jersey are offering +114 odds on Carolina to win in regulation, and I am jumping all over that. The Hurricanes are the better team, the more skilled team and the clear favorites in this series as a whole. Nashville has struggled to score all season, and squandered a plethora of chances in Game 2. I am sure the Predators will be more energized at home while trailing 2-0 in the series like every NHL team, but I’m not sure it will matter. Saros will play well again and match Nedeljkovic stride for stride, but the Hurricanes’ better offense will make the difference. Between these two goalies, though, I think we’re due for another low-scoring affair, so I’ll bet under 4.5 total goals at +195 odds.

BET ON CAROLINA HURRICANES TO WIN

Game 4 (Carolina Hurricanes lead 2-1)

May 23, 2:30 p.m., Bridgestone Arena

Matt Duchene scored a highlight-reel goal in the second overtime to lift the Nashville Predators to a vital win over the Carolina Hurricanes in Game 3 of the series. Nashville has now trimmed the deficit in the series to 2-1 as the home team has won the first three games of the series. It felt like a repeat of Game 1 when the Hurricanes took a 3-2 lead midway through the second period on a power play goal by Vincent Trocheck. However, Nashville responded to tie the game less than two minutes later on a power play of its own then took the lead early in the third period. It was a much better 60-minute effort from the Predators, who have been far more competitive against Carolina in this series than they had been during the regular season.

Once again, the Hurricanes were more than willing to parade to the penalty box and hand Nashville opportunities on the man advantage. The fact the Predators scored just once on seven power plays probably says more about the state of Nashville’s power play units than excellent penalty killing by Carolina. Nashville put up 15 shots across those seven power plays and Alex Nedeljkovic stopped 14 of those shots, but Nedeljkovic wasn’t as good stopping the Predators at even strength as Nashville scored four times on 38 shots in that situation. Carolina cannot afford to continue putting its goaltender under so much pressure and advance far in the Stanley Cup playoffs. Most teams are going to take far better advantage of seven power plays, and convert more than once on 15 power-play shots.

On the other side of that coin, credit the Predators for their battle and toughness in a roller-coaster Game 3. There were several times where it felt like Carolina was about to seize control of the game, and each time Nashville responded with the requisite energy to pull out the victory. Obviously Nashville needs to fix its power play, which was among the worst in the NHL this season, and take better advantage of the opportunities presented to it by Carolina, but all that matters at the end is the victory. The Predators also again received standout goaltending from Juuse Saros, who stopped 52 of the 56 shots that filtered they way onto him. Granted Nashville won’t win most games when allowing four goals, but Saros still had a .929 save percentage in the game and he had a .940 save percentage at even strength. That is always going to be good enough to help your team win a game in the NHL playoffs.

It is going to be a very interesting Game 4 with all of the momentum now on Nashville’s side. I would fully expect Nedeljkovic to respond positively for the Hurricanes after a shaky performance because the four goals he allowed in regulation in Game 3 were a season high. If Carolina gets back on track defensively, then it will be another battle of attrition because I don’t expect Saros to drop his level of play either. Saros plays his best when the game is on the line and Carolina clearly has struggled to score consistently on the Nashville netminder. I would bet the Hurricanes to win at the top sports betting sites in New Jersey because they are still the better team, but the value needs to be there. I am torn between betting on Carolina to score the first goal and win in regulation at +170 odds and the Hurricanes having to rally from at least one goal down to win in 60 minutes for +525 odds. Both could happen, so I’ll just bet on both of them at the top hockey betting sites in New Jersey then add on the under 4.5 total goals for +240 odds.

BET ON CAROLINA HURRICANES TO WIN

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Josh Walfish is an award-winning journalist who has been covering college and professional sports in the United States. He holds a journalism degree from Northwestern University and his work has appeared in the Miami Herald, Chicago Sun-Times and Providence Journal. He most recently chronicled the UMass hockey teams rise to prominence over the last two years for the local newspaper

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