Try as they might, the Nashville Predators have not been able to beat the Carolina Hurricanes this season.
The Canes topped the Predators for the sixth consecutive time Saturday, winning 3-1 at PNC Arena to keep their lead in the Central Division over Florida and Tampa Bay.
Jani Hakanpaa, in his second game with the Canes, had the game-winning goal in the third period. Jaccob Slavin scored in the first period and Andrei Svechnikov added an empty-net score late in the game. That was enough for goalie Alex Nedeljkovic, who made some timely and hustling saves among his 27 saves.
Hakanpaa, named the game’s first star, gave the Canes (29-10-4) a 2-1 lead at 8:55 of the third period as the 6-foot-5 defenseman took a pass from Vincent Trocheck off a faceoff win by the center and fired a shot from the top of the slot.
“He told me, ‘It’s coming your way, just shoot it,’” Hakanpaa said.
It came his way. He shot it.
It was the Canes’ second goal from the blue line, a rarity in a game this season. Slavin scored the game’s first goal late in the opening period with a shot from the slot.
The first period belonged to the Canes. They had 24 shots, nearly a full game’s worth for some teams, in the period and had the lead after Slavin’s second goal of the season -- the other an empty-netter on Feb. 19.
“It’s probably one of the best periods I’ve seen ever, to be honest with you,” Brind’Amour said. “We were good. We were on it, everything we were doing. It’s the way we’re supposed to look. Probably should have had more but it was good to get one.”
The numbers in the first were staggering: the Canes had a 31-5 advantage in scoring chances, according to Naturalstattrick.com. They looked sharp on the power play. They kept the puck in the offensive zone much of the period, putting Preds goalie Juuse Saros under extreme pressure.
“It was a super solid first period from top to bottom,” Slavin said.
But the Predators (24-21-1) survived the first with minimal damage. With forward Matt Duchene and defenseman Erik Gudbranson in the lineup, they got stronger as the game moved on. They tied the score 1-1 on Roman Josi’s goal from the top of the slot, after forcing a Canes turnover, and outshot the Canes in the period.
But Hakanpaa’s goal gave the Canes the edge they need in the third as they beat the Predators for the 13th time in the past 14 games.
Hakanpaa came to the Canes in a trade Monday from Anaheim and has made a quick transition. In his first game against Nashville, his most memorable play was a big hit on the Preds’ Mikael Granlund in the neutral zone.
Hakanapaa had another big one Saturday, nearly sending Calle Jarnkrok flying into the Preds bench. He topped it with his first goal in 44 games this season and nearly scored on a rebound chance earlier in the game.
The Canes closed out an eight-game homestand with a 5-2-1 record, and next will go on the road for six games — the first two at Tampa Bay. The Lightning were beaten 5-3 Saturday by the Panthers.
The Canes lead the Central with 62 points, one point ahead of Florida and two points ahead of Tampa Bay. Carolina has two games-in-hand on the Panthers and one on the Lightning.
“It’s nice to play in front of fans and be in front of the Caniacs again,” Slavin said. “From that side, it’s awesome and being home with the family mentally helps as well. With the hectic season that it is, it’s nice to be home but we’ve got a big road trip coming up so we’ve go to take care of the work we’ve got to do.”