Raleigh, NC -- The Carolina Hurricanes (36-11-8, 80pts) and Nashville Predators (30-23-2, 62pts) meet tonight to close out the regular season.
Both teams have secured a place in the postseason. And in a year of firsts, tonight's game presents another unique situation: a (meaningless) regular-season finale between two teams set to begin a first-round playoff series later this week.
"[Tonight] is such a tough game," Canes head coach Rod Brind'Amour said. "We want to play the game right, and when you're in the lineup, you've got to do it right...The end result, it's weird to say, is not that important, but the process is."
Saturday night's 3-1 victory by Nashville sealed a fourth-place finish in the Central Division standings for the Preds and guaranteed a best-of-7 series with the division-winning Hurricanes.
Due to their relative proximity--Nashville and Raleigh are separated by about 500 miles as the crow flies--the two teams have frequently played pre-season games against one another. And tonight's game might have something of a pre-season feel.
No coach wants to risk his team's health in a meaningless game, especially a game that comes against your future playoff opponent. Striking the correct balance between staying sharp and exercising caution will challenge both Rod Brind'Amour and John Hynes.
"There are a lot of banged-up guys," Brind'Amour said. "We're hoping that the time, between now and the playoffs, gets these guys healthy to play. We got guys that have been playing through a lot of stuff. We're kind of knicked up."
The Canes are expected to rest several key players for this one.
Forwards Andrei Svechnikov and Jordan Staal will not dress; defencemen Dougie Hamilton, Brett Pesce, and Jaccob Slavin will also be rested.
Slavin, who was lifted from Saturday night's game with a lower-body injury, was listed as a 'scratch' rather than an 'injury' on the team's website this afternoon.
Petr Mrazek (6-1-3, .934 SV%, 1.77 GAA) will get the start for Carolina. Mrazek made 25 saves in his last start, a 3-2 overtime loss to Chicago on May 6.
Alex Nedeljkovic will get the night off; James Riemer will back up Mrazek from the bench.
Jordan Martinook will draw back into the lineup for the first time since he was injured in Tampa Bay on April 22.
Drew Shore, Joey Keane, Joakim Ryan, and Jake Gardiner all draw into the lineup.
It will be the NHL debut for 21-year-old defenceman Joey Keane--a 3rd round draft pick of the New York Rangers back in 2018.
Brock McGinn (upper body) and Cedric Paquette (lower body) will not play.
Pekka Rinne (9-12-1, .902 SV%, 2.97 GAA) will start for Nashville. Rinne hasn't played only once since March--a 31-save performance against Tampa Bay on April 10.
The Canes' expected lines:
Warren Foegele — Sebastian Aho — Teuvo Teravainen
Nino Niederreiter — Vincent Trocheck — Martin Necas
Jordan Martinook — Steven Lorentz — Jesper Fast
Max McCormick — Drew Shore — Morgan Geekie
Jake Gardiner — Joey Keane
Brady Skjei — Jani Hakanpaa
Joakim Ryan — Jake Bean
Injuries: Cedric Paquette (lower body), Brock McGinn (upper body)
Scratches: Jaccob Slavin (healthy), Andrei Svechnikov (healthy), Brett Pesce (healthy), Jordan Staal (healthy), Dougie Hamilton (healthy), Alex Nedeljkovic (healthy)
Nashville's expected lines:
Filip Forsberg — Ryan Johansen — Eeli Tolvanen
Calle Jarnkrok — Mikael Granlund — Luke Kunin
Brad Richardson — Erik Haula — Matt Duchene
Yakov Trenin — Colton Sissons — Tanner Jeannot
Roman Josi — Ryan Ellis
Mattias Ekholm — Alexandre Carrier
Ben Harpur — Dante Fabbro
Injuries: Viktor Arvidsson (upper body)