Staal, Niederreiter lift Hurricanes past Predators 5-2

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Nashville Predators left wing Erik Haula (56) and Carolina Hurricanes defenseman Jani Hakanpaa (58) skate for the puck during the first period in Game 1 of an NHL hockey Stanley Cup first-round playoff series in Raleigh, N.C., Monday, May 17, 2021. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)

RALEIGH, N.C. – The Carolina Hurricanes had a building full of rowdy fans again, players back from injury and a strong showing from their captain to help break open a close game.

The Central Division champions got the start they needed in the postseason.

Jordan Staal scored twice and Nino Niederreiter beat Juuse Saros for the go-ahead goal early in the third period, helping the Hurricanes to a 5-2 win over the Nashville Predators on Monday night to open their first-round playoff series.

The Hurricanes trailed 1-0 early against a team that added some size to the lineup and a physical edge, but began to establish their style of play more effectively in the second period and then took over the final 20 minutes.

By the end, Carolina had finished with a 38-24 edge in shots on goal and outhit the Predators in a game with plenty of chippy moments and chesty exchanges between the teams.

“I'm not concerned at how the game is going to be played, because we kind of have shown that all year,” coach Rod Brind'Amour said. "Whatever style ends up playing, we've answered the bell, always. If it's an up-and-down game, OK, we can do that. If it ends up being a little grittier, that actually suits us, too."

Niederreiter hammered the puck past Saros from between the circles at 2:26 of the third, finishing a perfect pass from Martin Necas only moments after Saros had made a big stop on Vincent Trocheck. That broke a 2-all tie as the Hurricanes made their move.

Staal followed with his second goal midway through the second, created partly by his own pressure on the forecheck. After Saros stopped a shot near the post from Warren Foegele, the captain gathered the loose puck and pushed it past Saros for a 4-2 lead at the eight-minute mark.