Predators host Detroit in game one of Western Conference quarterfinal series
The NHL Stanley Cup playoffs get underway on Wednesday night when Pittsburgh hosts Philadelphia, Vancouver hosts Los Angeles, and the Nashville Predators host the Detroit Red Wings in game one of the Western Conference quarterfinals.
A season ago, Nashville was defeated in six games against the Canucks in the Western Conference semi-finals. This time around, the Predators are looking for an even deeper playoff run.
“I think we were confident last year. Obviously this is a new year and it is going to be exciting. We expect more. Last year was a big step, but it wasn’t our ultimate goal. We expect to play for a long time and you have to play well to do that,” Nashville captain Shea Weber said.
Standing in Nashville’s way are the Red Wings. Detroit finished fifth in the standings, just behind Nashville with 102 points on the season.
The Predators and Red Wings split their season series. Nashville won the last two contests between the clubs. Head Coach Barry Trotz says Nashville is a different team than they were the first couple of times the teams met earlier in the season.
“I think there was a wide margin. That’s because of our youth and I don’t think we had our game in order. The gap from game one of the season to game 82 is closed,” Trotz explained.
“We were a really young team. We made some changes, not necessarily at the trade deadline, I’m talking even before then when we brought up Roman Josi and Gabriel Bourque and we moved some parts around that stabilized our team, and then also what we did at the trade deadline.”
Detroit went 2-1 against Nashville in the first half of the season, beating Nashville twice by the same 4-1 score.
While many changes were made to the Predators throughout the season, as Trotz noted, for Nashville to get a strong start to the playoff series, some familiar faces will have to come up big.
For the past couple of seasons, David Legwand has led the Predators offense in the post season. The center will need to again step up his game, which shouldn’t be that difficult playing on a line with Alexander Radulov and Andrei Kostitsyn.
The defense, specifically Weber and Ryan Suter, will need to contain Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk. It is difficult to keep in check such dynamic players, especially when you throw into the mix the rest of the Red Wings top forwards including Johan Franzen, Tomas Holmstrom, Todd Bertuzzi, Valtteri Filppula and Jiri Hudler. But Trotz explains containing the explosiveness of the Red Wings can be done.
“We have learned things from Detroit over the years that we have to do as a team to keep them under wraps. We have some twists to our systems, to the way we play them,” he said.
Finally, Pekka Rinne needs to be better than Jimmy Howard in goal. It is as simple as that, though that is no simple task.
Right now, Howard is hot. He played the final five games of the season and posted a 1.92 GAA and .927 save percentage. For the season, Howard posted a 2.13 GAA and a .920 save percentage to Rinne’s 2.39 GAA and .923 save percentage. Whichever goaltender outperforms the other may hand their team the playoff series.
The Western Conference quarterfinals get underway in Nashville on Wednesday night at 7 pm CDT. Game two is Friday at 6:30 pm at Bridgestone Arena before the teams head to Detroit for games 3 and 4. Game 5, if necessary, will be held on Friday, April 20th back in Nashville.