(Sports Network) - Though the Nashville Predators have been consistent
participants in the playoffs over the past eight seasons, they haven't had
much success in the postseason.
The Predators hope a world-class goaltender, one of the top defensive pairings
in the league and some key in-season additions will get them past the first
round for only the second time in franchise history.
Nashville is one of only five teams to make it to the postseason in seven of
the last eight seasons, but last year's seven-game defeat of the Anaheim Ducks
in the Western Conference quarterfinals marked the first time it moved on to
round two. The Predators had their run end in six games by the Vancouver
Canucks in the semis.
The Preds, though, begin this year's second season with home-ice advantage in
the first round, however, after notching 104 points to the Red Wings' 102.
They secured the fourth seed when Detroit lost its season finale in a shootout
and they won in Colorado.
Nashville was able to advance in last season's playoffs despite a subpar
showing from goaltender Pekka Rinne, who went 6-6 with a 2.57 goals-against
average and .907 save percentage after earning a Vezina Trophy nomination. He
could be in for a another one as he led the NHL with a career-high 43 wins to
go along with a 2.39 GAA and .923 save percentage.
Rinne is the last line of defense behind a solid group of blueliners that
includes the dynamic duo of Shea Weber and Ryan Suter. Weber, a Norris Trophy
finalist last season, was tied for the league lead among defensemen with 19
goals, while Suter posted a career-high 46 points. Both were All-Stars this
past season and combined for 11 points in last season's playoffs.
Nashville's defensive group also got a boost prior to the trade deadline when
the club traded for the 6-foot-7 Hal Gill, who will look to keep the crease
clear in front of Rinne and brings championship experience to the club after
winning a Stanley Cup with Pittsburgh in 2009.
With Gill hanging back, he is usually paired with rookie Roman Josi, who
brings a little more offense to the duo.
Nashville also added to its offense before the deadline, getting winger Andrei
Kostitsyn, brother of fellow Predator Sergei, and gritty center Paul Gaustad.
Andrei Kostitsyn had four goals and 12 points in 19 games after getting picked
up from Montreal, while Gaustad gives Nashville a solid penalty killer and a
reliable option when it needs to win a face off. The former Sabre won 57.3
percent of his draws this season and will be key for Nashville's 10th-ranked
penalty kill unit (83.6 percent).
The Predators also got a big boost outside of the trade market when Alexander
Radulov decided to return to the NHL after leaving the Predators a few years
ago to ply in Russia's Kontinental Hockey League. Now a more experienced and
polished player, Radulov made a quick transition back to the NHL style and had
seven points in nine games with Nashville.
If Radulov catches fire in the playoffs, the Predators offense could become
one that gives other teams headaches. It could also make a power play that
already finished first in the NHL (21.6 percent) even more potent.
The Predators can afford some struggles by Radulov since their offense thrives
on balance. Nashville had just two 20-goal scorers but had 11 players finish
in double-digits if you include Andrei Kostitsyn's production in Montreal.
Center Mike Fisher, who the Predators acquired last season at the deadline
from Ottawa, was second with 24 goals and third with 51 points, while winger
Patric Hornqvist paced the club with 27 goals. Forward Martin Erat tallied 19
times, matched Suter for the team lead with 39 assists and topped all
Nashville skaters with 58 points.
David Legwand, who centers Radulov and Andrei Kostitsyn, also had 19 goals and
53 points after logging nine points in last season's playoffs. Legwand and
Erat have combined for 41 playoff points with Nashville.
Hornqvist leads the third line along with winger Gabriel Bourque and center
DETROIT RED WINGS (5th seed, West)
REGULAR SEASON RECORD: 48-28-6
2011 PLAYOFFS: Defeated Phoenix 4-0 in conference quarterfinals; lost to San
Jose 4-3 in conference quarterfinals
(Sports Network) - The Detroit Red Wings hope that failing to secure home-ice
advantage won't be the club's undoing in what will be its 21st straight
The Red Wings had a chance to lock up the fourth seed and begin the playoffs
at home and instead of in Nashville, but a regular-season ending 3-2 shootout
loss to Chicago and the Predators' win at Colorado put the Red Wings in the
That could be a game-changer.
Detroit, which hasn't missed the playoffs since 1990 and has won four Stanley
Cup titles over its current run, set an NHL record with a 23-game home winning
streak and ended the regular season 31-7-3 as the host. That outstanding
record was offset by a 17-21-3 mark on the road.
Making matters worse is injuries to speedy center Darren Helm (left knee) and
backup goaltender Joey MacDonald (back spasms). The former could be ready for
Game 2 of this series, while MacDonald might be out for the rest of the
That leaves Ty Conklin as the backup to starter Jimmy Howard, who has had his
own injury concerns. Howard missed time with a fractured right index finger
and also battled a nagging groin issue down the stretch. That limited him to
57 starts, but he still put up solid numbers with a 35-17-4 record to go with
a 2.13 goals-against average and .920 save percentage.
Not helping things in front of Howard is the fact that future Hall of Fame
defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom, 41, has been playing on an ankle that is leaving
him limited because of a deep bone bruise. That could prevent the seven-time
Norris Trophy winner from adding much to his 183 career playoff points spanned
over a club-record 258 postseason appearances.
Lidstrom will either be paired with Ian White or Jonathan Ericsson. White
ranked third among Detroit defenders with 32 points, two less than Lidstrom,
and led the group with a plus-23 rating.
Brad Stuart and Niklas Kronwall may be Detroit's best defensive pairing with
Lidstrom limited. Kronwall led the unit with 15 goals and 36 points.
What Detroit may lack in healthy bodies, it more than makes up for in playoff
experience. In addition to Lidstrom, who had eight points in last year's
postseason, winger Henrik Zetterberg has 49 goals and 99 points in the
postseason, forward Tomas Holmstrom has 45 tallies and 95 points and Pavel
Datsyuk has posted 32 goals, 59 assists and 91 points.
Datsyuk was on an excellent pace in last year's playoffs, totaling 15 points
before Detroit's elimination.
Datsyuk was second on Detroit this past season with 67 points and fell one
goal shy of becoming the club's fourth 20-goal scorer. Johan Franzen led the
team with 29 goals, center Jiri Hudler had 25 goals and 50 points, while
Zetterberg led the way with 69 points, including 22 tallies, while joining
Kronwall as the only Detroit players to skate in all 82 games.
If healthy, few teams can handle Detroit's top six forwards, a group that also
includes veteran Todd Bertuzzi and winger Valtteri Filppula.
Special teams was not much of an asset for the Red Wings this season. They
ranked 22nd on the power play (16.1 percent) and were tied for 17th while
shorthanded (81.8 percent).
The Predators will be looking for their first playoff series victory against
the Red Wings in the third meeting between the clubs. The Central Division
rivals also met in the first round in 2004 and '08, with Detroit taking both
series in six games. This will mark Nashville's first time with home-ice
Making things interesting is the fact that the clubs split their six-game
season series, with each game ending in regulation and both teams winning
twice on home ice.
Rinne got all six starts, posting a 2.67 GAA and .920 save percentage, while
Howard was in net for four of the meetings, going 2-2 with a 2.26 GAA and .908
Zetterberg led all scorers in the series with six points on two goals and four
assists, while Filppula led both teams with four goals. He finished with five
points versus Nashville in six games, while Datsyuk had a pair of goals and
three assists in five of the meetings.
Weber led the Predators with three goals and Erat had three assists in the
season series, while Legwand and Jordin Tootoo both finished with a goal and
four assists for a club-high five points versus Detroit.
The Red Wings did do a great job containing Fisher, holding the center without
a point in the six meetings.
Though Detroit has had Nashville's number in the past, the Red Wings'
advancing age and potential injury concerns that could come into factor over a
playoff series could signal a changing of the guard in this rivalry.
Both teams had goaltenders that can steal a game, but Rinne may have the edge
as he has come into his own over the past few seasons.
Nashville's balance on offense and a healthy duo of Weber and Suter have the
franchise primed for another trip into the semifinals.
Sports Network predicted outcome: Predators in 6
The Sports Network