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Stanley Cup Playoff Preview - Nashville vs. Detroit

1:41 PM, Apr 10, 2012   |    comments
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(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 Nick Spaling.

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 postseason appearance.

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 fifth spot.

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 season.

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).

MATCHUP

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 advantage.

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 save percentage.

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

 

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