Round One: Is the Third Time a Charm for the Predators?

By: Miranda Martin

After an exciting Saturday matinee of playoff preview hockey, as the Detroit Red Wings lost in a shootout to the Chicago Blackhawks, the Nashville Predators solidified their home ice advantage as well as their opponent.

The Nashville Predators will face the Detroit Red Wings for the third time in 7 playoff appearances for the franchise. Their first match-up came in the inaugural playoff series for the Predators in April 2004; the second series came in April 2008. Both times, the Predators lost within six games to end their postseason dreams.

Except this time, everything is different. Unlike ever before in franchise history, the Nashville Predators are playing above Detroit in the standings, with home ice advantage.  This is not the first time the Predators have had home ice advantage, though. They had home ice against the San Jose Sharks in both 2005-06 and 2006-07. Both times, the Predators fell in five games to the Sharks. However, this year, with the Detroit Red Wings alarmingly losing road record, the Predators may have a distinct advantage with home ice.

It’s seemingly inevitable that Nashville plays Detroit in times of great change within the organization. In April 2004, it was the first time that Predators fans ever got a taste of the postseason, after the first five years of their existence falling below 8th place. The closest the team had previously placed was in 2001, when they were 10th in the Western Conference. In April 2008, many fans saw the playoffs as a miracle. The team faced a sale and possible relocation in the summer of 2007, and a firesale lost stars like Kimmo Timonen, Scott Hartnell, and Tomas Vokoun, as well as Paul Kariya and Peter Forsberg looking elsewhere for teams. The gritty Predators squeezed into eight place to play the first place Red Wings again, just like they did in 2004. In those two series, the Nashville Predators were the underdog.

Many things have changed since 2008.

In 2008, the Nashville Predators had never won a road game in the playoffs. Their first road win would come April 16, 2010, when the Predators beat the Chicago Blackhawks 4-1 at the United Center. The Predators had also never won a playoff series. In 2011, the Predators won their Game 6, clinching a second round berth after beating the Anaheim Ducks in a 4-2 series.

This year, it isn’t of woes and barely making it by to the first round. The great change within the organization is that Nashville has been established as a hockey market. Trotz has even been reported to call Nashville “Hockeytown South,” playing on the Detroit nickname Hockeytown. David Poile went out at the trade deadline and acquired players Hal Gill, Andrei Kostitsyn, and Paul Gaustad to prove that this team was serious about a Stanley Cup contention. Combine those acquisitions with the return of Alexander Radulov from the KHL, and the Predators just went from contender to threat. Experts around the NHL are predicting a Predators Stanley Cup Final run. It’s only appropriate that Nashville would have to face their rival in the first round.

But, for once, could the Detroit Red Wings actually be the underdog of a series against against the Predators?

Along with the Philadelphia Flyers and Pittsburgh Penguins series, which is the 4th-5th place series of the Eastern Conference, this has to be the most exciting Quarterfinal series, so expect a very hard fought 6 or 7 game stretch. It would not be surprising if the Nashville Predators reach a game seven for the very first time in their franchise playoff history. Several elements, from special teams to home and road wins, will be crucial for the Predators to find success.

Game 1 of the Western Conference Quarterfinals is set on April 11th at 7 PM CST at Bridgestone Arena. The game will be televised on FSN-TN, as well as nationally on CNBC. Game 2 at Bridgestone Arena is set for Friday, April 13th, at 6:30 CST, with the same television schedule. The Predators will then travel to Detroit for a matinee game Sunday, April 15, at 11 AM CST (on NBC), followed by Game 4 in Detroit on Tuesday, April 17, at 6:30 CST on NBC Sports Network. For the full schedule of the playoffs, check Very limited tickets for Games 1, 2, 5, and even 7 are still available through the Nashville Predators box office.

The Breakdown:
Predators: 48-26-8 (104 points, 4th Place); Detroit  48-28-6 (102 points, 5th Place)

Home Record: 
Predators: 26-10-5; Detroit: 31-7-3

Away Record: 
Predators: 22-16-3; Detroit: 17-21-3

Last 10 games:
Predators: 6-4-0; Detroit 4-5-1

Nashville Record vs. Detroit:
Regular season series tied 3-3, with no games going into overtime/shootout. Home records for both teams are 2-1.

-Notes on the Predators-
Radulov’s Postseason Return: Forward Alexander Radulov has had a stellar comeback since returning from the KHL in late March. In 9 games, he posted 7 points, as well as a game-winning shootout goal vs. Minnesota on April 3rd. In his lone game against the Red Wings, he posted 2 points (1 G/1 A) in the 4-1 victory. In previous years, Radulov has played in 10 postseason games with the Predators, posting 5 goals in those games. But that was five years ago, and how he fares in the postseason now will likely determine the success of the predators.

Pekka’s Play: Pekka Rinne set a franchise record for most wins by a goalie with 42 in the regular season. His GAA is 2.39 with a .923 Save Percentage. The 2011 Vezina candidate will have to be on his best game to stop Detroit’s powerful offense. Injury to backup goalie Anders Lindback is also a worry to Nashville, as they called up Jeremy Smith as a precautionary measure. This definitely puts more pressure on Rinne to play to his best ability.

A “Special” Season: Special teams will be crucial in the series, particularly for Nashville. The Predators power play is the highest ranked in the NHL with 21.6%. This starkly contrasts the Red Wing’s 16.1%, which ranks at 22nd in the league. The Predators penalty kill is ranked 10th in the NHL with 83.6%, which is close to the Red Wing’s 81.8% that ranks them 18th in the league.

-Notes on the Red Wings-
Jimmy Howard’s Play: Starting Goaltender Jimmy Howard’s record since coming back from multiple injuries is a surprising 3-6-3. However, this is not the Jimmy Howard that the Red Wings saw in the beginning of the season. His post-injury record strangely contrasts his decisive 35-17-4 record overall for the season, so Howard is potentially dangerous if he finds his game. He ended the season with a 2.12 Goals Against Average (GAA) and a .920 Save Percentage.

Return from injuries: An injury-stricken Detroit has caused many woes for the team; however, most will be available to play in the postseason, including Daniel Cleary, who hasn’t played since February 8th. One player that isn’t ready just yet is Darren Helm. Helm’s knee injury has been a huge blow for the Red Wings, but head coach Mike Babcock is optimistic that he may return mid-series (as early as Game 2). With Cleary and Helm’s potential returns, expect a hard fighting series.

Loaded offense: Stars like Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg are always a threat and will need to be shut down by Nashville’s defense. But they aren’t the only threat Nashville faces defensively. Johan Franzen’s led the Red Wings this season with 29 goals. Valteri Filppula will also be a threat, posting 66 points in the regular season. Players like Todd Bertuzzi and Tomas Holmstrom will be playing their game in front of the goalie crease, which the Predators need to expect as usual.

On the Road Again: In the past 10 years, the Detroit Red Wings have not had home ice only once: in 2009-2010. That year, the Chicago Blackhawks took the division and the Red Wings took 5th place. Their losing record on the road will be a major test to the team. The Red Wings were able to beat the Predators on the road December 26th, but their other two meetings on Predators Ice (December 15th and March 10th) were both losses.

Playoff Woes: The last time the Detroit Red Wings beat a postseason team in regulation was March 9th vs. the LA Kings (4-3). The team has struggled against playoff-caliber teams, including losses to Nashville, LA, New Jersey, and Washington in March and April. Many of their final games ended in shootouts, including victories against Florida and St. Louis and a loss against Chicago April 8th, but, alas, there are no shootouts in postseason play.

Predneck Nation’s Prediction for Conference Quarterfinals: Predators in 7.

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