The past few seasons, the Nashville Predators have shown the ability to be a serious Cup contender, but never lived up to their potential when the playoffs rolled around. Last season they finished fifth in the Western Conference and knocked off the Anaheim Ducks in the opening round of the playoffs, before falling to the eventual Western Conference Champion Vancouver Canucks in round two. As the playoffs aproach this season, the Preds again will finish in the top five of the Western Conference after another solid season. So why are they a more serious threat to bring home the Stanley Cup than they were a year ago?
One answer is the reason the Preds have been dangerous before, the stellar play of goaltender Pekka Rinne. Last season Rinne was a Vezina Trophy Finalist as he made 64 appearences and compiled 33 victories and a .930 saves percentage. This year he is again considered a strong candidate for the award while earning 43 wins in 72 apperences and compliling a .923 saves percentage. The 6-5 native of Finland has established himself as one of the leagues best between the pipes and has the ability to be a difference maker in any series along the way.
Another answer is experience. Last season, Mike Fisher was acquired to add expearience and he contributed seven points in 12 games during Nashville’s playoff run. Now that he has a full season with the Preds under his belt, look for the former Ottawa Senators stand-out and 12 season NHL veteran to be an even bigger part of Nashville’s quest for the Cup. Fisher (31) has 87 games of NHL playoff experience and was part of the Senators run to the Finals in 2007. After being acquired by Nashville last season, the Ontario native added five goals and 12 points in 27 regular season games. With one game remaining this season, Fisher has recorded 51 points, which ranks as the second highest total in his NHL career. Looking ahead, Fisher is a key component of the well-oiled-machine that is the Nashville Predators as they head to the playoffs.
Again this season, Nashville added expearience by bringing in veteran defenseman Hal Gill. Gill(37) was aquired via trade from the Montreal Canadians back on February 17th. The 6-7 blueliner has 15 seasons in the NHL under his belt to go along with 105 games of NHL playoff expearience. While winning the Stanley Cup in 2009 with the Pittsburgh Penguins, he shut down Alexander Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals. Not only did he do it once, but twice as he did it again the following post-season with the Montreal Canadians. Gill has the ability to shut down any opponent’s top line, which will take some heat off of Pekka Rinne and make the Preds a stronger team this post-season.
Finally, adding Paul Gaustad and Alexander Radulov increased the potential of this Nashville team. Gaustad is a strong center that can make an impact for a team down the stretch, while Radulov is a KHL scoring title winner and was considered one of the most talented players outside the NHL before returning to Nashville. Add in the aquisition of Andrei Kostitsyn and you have a team that has scoring depth, an very solid defensive core, and a goaltender that can steal you a series single handed.
Nashville has all the conponents needed to make a run for the Cup. The only question remaining is will they live up to their potential this time around?