While there are certainly a number of excellent playoff matchups in the Western Conference, perhaps none are more exciting then this Central Division rivalry. The Nashville Predators and Detroit Red Wings literally battled to the final day of the regular season to determine who would grab the home ice in the opening round, which only fueled what is already a heated rivalry.
Nashville ended up winning its final three games — and six of 10 — to hold on to the fourth seed in the standings. Detroit, on the other hand, finished the year on a two-game skid and as losers of six of 10 to fall to fifth. Now, with a Stanley Cup on the line, they will see who truly is the better of the two clubs.
Regular season series was TIED, 3-3.
Nov 26th — Nashville 1, Detroit 4
Dec 15th — Detroit 3, Nashville 4
Dec 26th — Detroit 4, Nashville 1
Feb 17th –Nashville 1, Detroit 2
Mar 10th — Detroit 2, Nashville 3
Mar 30th — Nashville 4, Detroit 1
Detroit Red Wings
1. Red Wings Forwards Must Outplay Preds Defenseman — Detroit is a talented offensive team that is ranked 7th in the NHL in scoring and is led by the fierce combination of Henrik Zetterberg, Pavel Datsyuk and Valtteri Filppula. Those three guys alone have put up nearly 200 points this season and are incredibly difficult to stop in a seven game series. However, Nashville is unique to most teams in the sense that they are loaded with defensemen. They are led by Shea Weber and Ryan Suter — among others — who can legitimately play with an group of forwards in the league. So, the Red Wings top guys have to outplay the Preds defense if they hope to advance.
2. Power Play Is Pivotal — Although Detroit is fairly impressive in most facets of the game, they have struggled mightily in power play situations this year. And, I don’t just mean offensively; the problems are occurring on both ends of the ice. In fact, the Red Wings rank 22nd in power play conversion rate and 18th on the penalty, which is significantly worse then the Predators, who are 1st and 10th respectively. These numbers were very noticeable in the teams’ six matchups in the regular season. When Detroit won they allowed zero power play goals and found a way to score one of their own, but it was a different story when they lost. Obviously this could be huge in the series.
1. Control Home Ice — Finishing with the fourth seed was the best thing that could have happened to the Predators — especially in a matchup with the Red Wings. Detroit is the best home team in the NHL, but they have struggled on the road (17-21-3) all season. Therefore, if Nashville can win the four games that they were given at Bridgestone Arena, they will easily win the series. However, the worst scenario for the Preds would be giving the Wings a road win early in the series that then transfers the home advantage to Detroit at Joe Louis Arena where they are 31-7-3.
2. Replicate March 30th at Joe Louis — Now, I realize that Nashville could lose all three games at Joe Louis Arena and still win the series if they control their home ice. But, if they are forced into a position in which they must win on the road, the Predators need to play like they did on March 30th. They beat the Red Wings 4-1, which matched the largest defeat that Detroit faced at home in 41 games played there this season. So, whatever the formula was in that contest is what must be replicated during the postseason for Nashville to advance.
Player to Watch
Pekka Rinne, Goaltender, Nashville Predators
Rinne is absolutely pivotal to the Predators chances in the series with the Red Wings. He has continuously been one of the top netminders in the NHL and that was the case again this year as he posted a 43-18-8 record with a 2.39 goals against average. It certainly helps that his defense is quite formidable, but it was still his job to face well over 2,100 shots during this campaign.
However, in games with Detroit, Rinne’s performance was unpredictable. He started all six contests and posted a .500 record, but gave up 2.67 goals per game, which was higher than his typical average. This inconsistency is unacceptable once the postseason rolls around, so Nashville’s chances could be determined by the Rinne that shows up. I’ll say this; if he’s at his best, watch out.
For me, this series comes down to one statistic. The Detroit Red Wings have started a postseason series on the road just twice over the last 20 seasons, and that is exactly what they will do later tonight. This is of great significance this year — perhaps even more than others — because of the Red Wings inability to win in opposing arena’s at times. I believe that Nashville will use this to their advantage and will ultimately win a game seven in the comfort of their home building.
Nashville advances, 4 games to 3