Hurricanes fall 2-1 to Predators in season opener

NASHVILLE, TENN. – The Carolina Hurricanes started the 2015-2016 season with a 2-1 loss to the Nashville Predators at Bridgestone Arena on Thursday.

Eric Staal’s first goal of the season was Carolina’s only offensive finish on the night as two first-period goals against starting netminder Cam Ward (23 saves) held throughout regulation time.

The Predators, playing in front of a home-opening crowd of 17,204, hovered around Ward’s net for much of the first period.

They were rewarded for their effort in outshooting the Hurricanes 14-5 during that time.

Craig Smith opened the game’s scoring at 2:23, finishing a Nashville power play sequence as Carolina’s Jordan Staal sat in the penalty box for high-sticking.

Just over two minutes later, adding to the Hurricanes early-period troubles, defensemen James Wisniewski got tied up along the boards playing for a loose puck, and fell to the ice after twisting his left leg.

He didn’t return for the remainder of the game.

Predators goalkeeper Pekka Rinne, who finished with 25 saves, turned away the handful of shots he faced in the opening period to keep the one-goal lead intact.

Viktor Arvidsson’s goal with 2:57 remaining gave Nashville the cushion it needed for the remainder of the game, leading 2-0 at the first intermission.

“We were on our heels a bit early, for whatever reason,” Hurricanes head coach Bill Peters said afterwards.

“Not sure, (maybe) the excitement for a home-opener for Nashville. They did a good job – came out and checked hard and were all over us and we didn’t handle the forecheck pressure as well as we would have liked. Once we settled down, we were fine.”

Though afforded three power play opportunities on the night, Carolina was unable to capitalize on any of them.

Rinne remained sharp as Carolina swarmed around him during the final period, still trailing 2-0.

While outshooting Nashville 12-3 through the final 20 minutes of play, only Staal’s centering attempt crossed the goal line.

As the Hurricanes captain looked to connect with Victor Rask in the low slot, the puck caromed off a Nashville defender’s skate and past Rinne.

With 1:40 remaining, it provided the Hurricanes the glimmer of hope they were looking for.

However, even with the extra skater on, Rinne and his defense held off Carolina’s final-seconds efforts to tie the game.

“I thought we had a real good push and that’s a positive sign,” Peters said.

“You gotta play 60 minutes, you gotta start on time, and there’s no reason to be on your heels, right? We were on our heels early and it cost us the hockey game.”

Notes: The loss was Carolina’s fifth consecutive season-opening shortfall, not having won the first game of the season, away or at home since 2010…Rookie defenseman Noah Hanifin made his NHL debut, playing just over 18 minutes and finishing with a -1 rating…Forward Kris Versteeg, along with Staal and defenseman Ryan Murphy, generated nearly half of Carolina’s offensive pressure, finishing with 10 shots on goal combined.

Boxscore – Nashville 2, Carolina 1