The Detroit Red Wings are always one team to never count out for a Stanley Cup run. Their experience and stoic poise has always given them an edge and made it difficult to pick against them. However, for the first time in their franchise’s history, the Nashville Predators have expectations to make a run of their own in the postseason – some even have them as a Cup favorite. As a fourth and fifth seed matchup in the West featuring two division rivals that tied their season series, this will be a highly anticipated series for all hockey fans.
Nashville was getting by with steady offensive production from Martin Erat, David Legwand, Shea Weber and Ryan Suter, but after the trade deadline, work from the Kostitsyn brothers and positive faceoff results from Paul Gaustad have put the Predators in a more favorable light in terms of offense. Now packed with Alexander Radulov, who has only played nine games so far, but has put up three goals and seven points, the Preds have a scoring threat that they have lacked prior to Radulov’s arrival. Still, Detroit has the likes of Henrik Zetterberg, Pavel Datsyuk and Valtteri Filppula to help carry this team, and they are getting players like Danny Cleary and Darren Helm back for the playoffs, so their offense will be slightly boosted by their return. The Red Wings offense will be nothing to sleep on if they click upon their return. Also, look for their power play numbers to rise.
The forever-young Nicklas Lidstrom is a mainstay on the Detroit blueline and along with Niklas Kronwall, they’ve held things down on both ends of the ice for the Wings. Getting up there in notoriety is the pairing of Weber and Suter, who also have taken care of things offensively and defensively for the Predators. Both teams have multi-dimensional blueliners, but the ultimate X-factor comes in with Hal Gill. Gill has not only been a huge help for Nashville in the stay-at-home department, but he has been on two teams’ deep runs: the Pittsburgh Penguins during their Cup-winning year and the Montreal Canadiens when they upset the Washington Capitals and Penguins the following year.
Edge: Predators. It would have been split, but Gill gives much more depth, giving Suter and Weber time where they’re not on the ice and is a newfound source of influence for Nashville.
Surprisingly, the Red Wings have had a subpar year in terms of special teams. They were on the lower end with the man advantage and very middle-of-the-pack with their penalty kill. Still, Detroit can make noise in the playoffs with injured players coming back and taking advantage of any mistake Nashville makes.
Still, the Predators have a killer power play, and their numbers on the kill haven’t been bad. The additions of Gill and Gaustad have only made those numbers better with improved defensive focus with responsible backchecking and winning faceoffs.
Jimmy Howard finished the year with a 2.13 goals-against average and a .920 save percentage. Certainly, those numbers are not too shabby, especially with the struggles the team has had at some points this season. Barring Howard’s health, Detroit has a solid stuation in net; however, Nashville has quite the response with Pekka Rinne. Another year as a Vezina Candidate, Rinne has finished a 2.39 goals-against average but a .923 save percentage. Rinne, once again, has taken the brunt of the workload in net, but he’s used to it, and he continues to excel for the Preds.
NASHVILLE WILL WIN IF ... they take the Wings out of their element. Having home-ice advantage against a Red Wings team that has played awfully on the road is huge for them and the best way to make the most of that benefit is to play them with an extra dose of physicality. Detroit has Kronwall to respond to physical play, but it’s not exactly their game to do so; thus, giving Nashville the advantage.
RED WINGS WILL WIN IF ... they steal a game on the road. The Wings ended the 2011-12 season with the worst road record in their franchise history in years at 17-21-3. The season series ended tied at 3-3, with the home team winning four of the six games between the two. Add another game with the home-ice advantage and the odds would say the Preds win the series. With stealing a game in Nashville, Detroit’s experience and the fact they were just two points away from earning home-ice themselves gives them a little edge the rest of the series.