NHL Playoff Preview: Red Wings vs. Predators
2012 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFFS
WESTERN CONFERENCE QUARTERFINALS
No. 5 DETROIT RED WINGS
vs. No. 4 NASHVILLE PREDATORS
Starts: Wednesday in Nashville
Season Series: Tied 3-3
Series Price: Nashville -115, Detroit -105
The 4-5 matchup in the Western Conference pits two Central Division rivals against each other as the veteran-laden No. 5 Detroit Red Wings battle the upstart No. 4 Nashville Predators.
Just like the Flyers-Penguins matchup in the East, this series should have no shortage of excitement and tight finishes. Both teams hail from the West’s toughest division—the Central—where, incredibly, four teams eclipsed 100 standings points. For Nashville and Detroit though, the ironic reward of finishing second and third in the division, respectively, is that both must face each other in the first round of the postseason. The Red Wings have no shortage of experience as they prepare to make an unprecedented 21st consecutive playoff appearance. The Predators look to build off the franchise’s first playoff series victory last season, but this time Nashville won’t be under anyone’s radar.
Three Important Things to Watch for in this Series:
1. Between the Pipes
In terms of goaltending, no first round series presents a better matchup than this one with Detroit’s Jimmy Howard (35-17-4, 2.12 GAA, .920 SV Pct.) and Nashville’s Pekka Rinne (43-18-8, 2.39 GAA, .923 SV Pct.). Rinne ranks first in the NHL in wins, and Howard led the league in that category for the first half of the season before injuries limited him to just 13 starts since February 2. Rinne played in a career-high 73 games in the regular season—so the potential for fatigue is there—but he also benefits from playing behind one of the deepest blue lines in the NHL. Detroit will want to push the pace and certainly has enough size to put big bodies in front of the net, but Nashville will cause the Wings fits if it can get on the board first—the Predators were an incredible 35-3-4 when scoring first (2nd in NHL in that situation).
2. Away from The Joe
When analyzing this series, it is very important to put perceptions aside and look strictly at what has transpired this year. Even though the Red Wings are consistently one of the most dominant teams in the league, their road record this year is a serious cause for concern. Detroit stole the headlines this season with its NHL-record 23-game home winning streak at Joe Louis Arena, but the Wings are the only Western Conference playoff team with a sub-.500 road record (17-21-3). No team in the NHL will enjoy a greater home-ice advantage than the Red Wings, but it’s unlikely any team in the playoffs will be as reliant on it either. If this series goes the distance, Nashville will have a decided advantage with Game 7 in its home barn.
3. Defense > Offense?
The Predators have earned a rightful reputation for being one of the best defensive teams in the league thanks to the NHL’s best shutdown pair: Shea Weber (19 G, 30 A) and Ryan Suter (7 G, 39 A). Don’t sleep on Nashville’s offense though—the unit ranks 8th in the NHL in goals per game (2.8) and the Preds boast the best power play in the league, converting at a 21.6 percent clip. Nashville doesn’t have any single offensive superstar, but has seven players who scored 40+ points this season. The X-factor for the Predators will be RW Alexander Radulov, who returned to Nashville three weeks ago after a four-year stint in the Russian KHL. Radulov instantly becomes one of the top scoring threats for the Preds, and adds an interesting wrinkle to an already underrated offense.
Betting against the Red Wings in the postseason, in most cases, just isn’t a smart idea. They always seem to find a way to get it done. But it’s time to put reputational fears aside and look at this series objectively. The only advantage the Red Wings have in this series is top-end offense. Detroit boasts an incredible trio of centers with Henrik Zetterberg (22 G, 47 A), Pavel Datsyuk (19 G, 48 A) and Valtteri Filppula (23 G, 46 A) and two other 20+ goal scorers in RW Johan Franzen (29 G, 27 A) and LW Jiri Hudler (25 G, 25 A). Are these offensive weapons enough to win a series? Absolutely. And if the Red Wings had drawn a different opponent, they would likely advance into the second round. But the Predators have more depth on defense, a Vezina Trophy-candidate goaltender who is playing better at the moment, and—believe it or not—more depth overall on offense. And if it comes down to a decisive seventh game, as noted above, that extra two standings points will prove to be the difference as the Predators enjoy the friendly confines of the Music City. Prediction: PREDATORS IN 7.