Nashville: 48-26-8 / 104 points
Detroit: 48-28-6 / 102 points
Pavel Datsyuk (70G – 19G / 48A / +21)
Henrik Zetterberg (82G / 22G / 47A / +14)
Nicklas Lidstrom (70G / 11G / 23A / +21)
Pekka Rinne (73G / 43W – 18L / 8OTL / 2.39 GAA / 0.923 SPct)
Shea Weber (78G / 19G / 30A / +21)
Ryan Suter (79G / 7G / 39A / +15)
The series was tied at 3-3 with both teams winning twice at home and once on the road.
While both teams boast a deep lineup, Nashville is more dependent on their top three. Rinne is the type of goalie that can steal a series, and may need to. Weber and Suter will be under considerable pressure to shut down Datsyuk and Zetterberg, while also directing Nashville’s power play.
Though still young, Weber, Suter and Rinne are seasoned veterans with playoff experience. The real factor in Nashville’s success will be how well the rest of the team plays. Marin Erat, David Legwand (finally) and Mike Fisher combined for 62 goals this year, the Kostitsyn brothers have been reunited, and Alexader Radulov has delivered so far, registering 7 points in his first 9 games.
If the big three simply play their game, and these forwards produce, Nashville can wear Detroit down with a more physical lineup (including the recently acquired Paul Gaustad). Nashville also has home ice advantage against a Red Wings squad that was below .500 on the road.
As far as playoff experience goes, this resembles David vs. Goliath. The Red Wings are a model franchise, appearing in the playoffs for the 21st consecutive season, while the Predators have a 'shiny new slingshot' they cannot wait to unleash. If Detroit can earn at least a split in the first two games in Nashville, they may sufficiently unnerve the Predators and dominate the series.
The health of Nicklas Lidstrom is a big issue, as Detroit’s defense corps beyond him is solid, but unspectacular. The Red Wings have some streaky forwards in Valtteri Filppula, Johan Franzen, and Jiri Hudler. As with Nashville, Detroit’s success probably depends upon secondary scoring.
Jimmy Howard started strongly this year, but has battled injuries, including a groin pull recently. He is rarely called upon to steal a game, but is capable if healthy. If Howard should stand on his head, Detroit wins.
The winner is…
With Howard and Lidstrom banged up, and Detroit’s dismal road record, losing home ice advantage will cost them the series. Nashville is playing more consistent hockey right now, is healthier, and actually has more offensive depth (9 players with 15+ goals vs. only 6 for Detroit).
The X-factor is Radulov. He is in his prime, is dynamic, and has shown a willingness to play team defense and to drive the net when necessary. Detroit will also regret not picking up a power forward at the deadline. Nashville has too much size and power to complement their recent upgrade in skill.
Fearless prediction: Nashville in 7
Check back soon for our next 'Playoff Preview'.