With only twelve completed seasons under their belt, the Nashville Predators aren’t really known for their post-season experience. Throughout those twelve seasons, the Predators made it to the playoffs a total of eight times and met the Detroit Red Wings twice (2004 and 2008) losing both series in six games. Things are a bit different this time around, though.
For the first time in franchise history (since 1998) the Nashville Predators placed above the Detroit Red Wings in their division (Nashville 2nd, Detroit 3rd) and conference (Nashville 4th, Detroit 5th). The irony in this situation is that the team the Preds will be meeting in the Conference Quarterfinals on Wednesday is none other than the Detroit Red Wings. Even though the tables have turned, every time you get in the playoffs it’s a whole new season.
The Predators should not cozy up to the fact that they placed higher than the Red Wings for the first time simply because they finished .500 against the them this season. Throughout six games, the Predators defeated the Red Wings three times in impressive fashion but also suffered three heart wrenching losses to them. If the Predators want to see success and advance out of the first round for only the second time out of eight playoff appearances, they have to utilize these five keys to success.
Elite Goalkeeper: Pekka Rinne (G)
In 2012, Rinne resembled a young Martin Broduer and was an absolute machine. He ranked second in games played and gathered more wins than any goalie throughout the season, notching up a total of 43 wins (a career high). Walking out of the season with a .923 save percentage and a 2.39 goals-against-average, it’s easy to see why Head Coach Barry Trotz wanted to start him so much.
It’s more than the stats and the fact that he has the best glove in the league that should intimidate the Red Wings and other opponents; Rinne dwarves the net at 6’5″ tall. Along with backup goalie Anders Lindbäck (6’6″) they are the tallest goalie tandem in the league.
What Rinne brings to the table in this series is his ability to steal games. When he is on, very few shots get past him and as evident with his 43 victories, Rinne is rarely ever off his game. His play against Detroit Red Wings this season could be looked at as okay, but if one were to dive into the stats they would see that there is a story behind those key losses. Shea Weber was sidelined with injury earlier on in the season which led to one of the losses, and a disgusting 37 total shots from Detroit led to another of the losses. The third loss, however, there is no excuse; The Predators simply got outplayed. With no key injuries for the Predators and their defense finally clicking, Rinne should be an impact player while putting on solid performances.
Top-Notch Defensemen: Ryan Suter (D) and Shea Weber (D)
Shea Weber and Ryan Suter may very well be the best defensive-duo in the league today. On one side of the ice, you have Ryan Suter who is having the best season of his career. Suter has racked up 39 assists and 46 points, both career highs, and was featured in the All-Star game.
On the other side of the ice, you have Shea Weber. Weber is tied with Erik Karlsson of the Ottawa Senators with most goals scored by a defensive player this season at 19. A Norris Trophy finalist last year, Weber will without a doubt be in the race again this year.
Expect these two men to play at least half the game. During the regular season in even-strength situations, Suter and Weber were on the ice 32.6% of the time, with the leading duo behind them being Kevin Klein and Francis Bouillon at 10.82%. Barry Trotz has stated in the past that he is all about team chemistry, and nobody has better defensive chemistry than Weber and Suter. If guys like Klein, Bouillon and Gil and keep the ice in top shape while Suter and Weber are recouping on the bench, the Preds will be in a good situation.
Home Ice Advantage: Nashville Home: 26-10-5/Detroit Away: 17-21-3
See all the stats in the header above? That simply translates to this: The Detroit Red Wings aren’t playing like themselves on the road… at all. Since February 1st, the Wings have lost an atrocious ten games on the road while only winning three. Right in the middle of the skid on March 10th, the Red Wings met the Predators in Nashville. Penalties from Detroit ultimately cost them the game, as they allowed two goals in penalty-kill situations (both scored by newly acquired Andrei Kostitsyn).
Even though the playoffs is like playing a whole new season, those factors have to be lingering over their heads on the air planes as they make their trips to Nashville throughout the series. I fully expect the Red Wings to play a disciplined game in the series opener, but if they lose that one it could all go downhill from there.