Nedeljkovic comes through for Hurricanes in Game 1 win against Predators

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Alex Nedeljkovic said he was treating his first career start in the Stanley Cup Playoffs like it was just another game, and the Carolina Hurricanes goalie excelled in this one as much as he did in most of his regular-season appearances.

Nedeljkovic made 22 saves for the Hurricanes, who defeated the Nashville Predators 5-2 in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup First Round at PNC Arena in Raleigh, North Carolina, on Monday. 

Game 2 will be played here Wednesday (8 p.m. ET; CNBC, FX-CA, TVAS2, BSSO). Teams that win Game 1 are 490-222 (68.8 percent) winning a best-of-7 NHL playoff series, including 7-1 in the first round last season.

The 25-year-old rookie allowed a goal to forward Filip Forsberg for a 1-0 Nashville lead 12:14 into the first period, and Predators forward Erik Haula scored off a deflection to tie the game 2-2 8:41 into the second period. Otherwise, Nedeljkovic looked calm and in control. 

“I don’t know if I was really fighting it [early],” Nedeljkovic said. “Just a few weird bounces maybe and just a bad read on that first goal. I got stretched out a little bit, but I thought for the most part it was just another game, just everybody was a little bit louder. You just try to look at it that way. It’s just another game and we have three more to go here. But our focus is on Wednesday night now.”

 

[RELATED: Complete Predators vs. Hurricanes series coverage]

 

Nedeljkovic got his opportunity this season when starting goalie Petr Mrazek missed 31 games after having surgery on his right thumb in February. He went 15-5-3 with a 1.90 goals-against average. 932 save percentage and three shutouts in 23 games, all starts.  

Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour said Nedeljkovic earned the start in Game 1.

“It’s really not that difficult,” Brind’Amour said. “Yeah, Petr is our guy, but he’s had a lot of time off, so it’s not that I was questioning whether or not he could do it. We just gave ‘Ned’ an opportunity this year and just felt like he earned the start.”

Carolina captain Jordan Staal, who scored two goals in Game 1, wasn’t surprised at Nedeljkovic’s performance.

“He’s been doing that all year, tonight was no different,” Staal said. “I thought he did a great job of handling the puck when he needed to, and then obviously making some big saves and slowing the game down when they were getting some zone time. I thought he was just solid the whole way through.”

Video: Staal propels Hurricanes past Predators in Game 1

Nedeljkovic isn’t assuming he’s the No. 1 guy from here on out. Mrazek was 6-2-3 with a 2.06 GAA, .923 save percentage and three shutouts in 12 games, all starts, and James Reimer was 15-5-2 with a 2.66 GAA and .906 save percentage in 22 games (21 starts). But Nedeljkovic showed he can handle the playoff pressure.

“Obviously ‘Mraz’ and ‘Reims’ have played well all year as well, so it wouldn’t be surprising to see one of those two in net the next game,” Nedeljkovic said. “I mean, everybody wants to play, you know? Everybody wants to battle and get in there. Fortunately, the coaching staff and the guys trusted me enough to give me the start tonight, but you have to take it one day at a time and whatever happens, happens.”

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