The Nashville Predators are in the Western Conference Finals for the first time in franchise history. The team has had plenty of trips to the playoffs since their opening 1998-1999 season with this their 10th trip out of 18 tries.
Of all the teams in the playoffs, Nashville has had the quickest path to the third round, sweeping the Chicago Blackhawks in the opening round, then eliminating the St. Louis Blues in 6 games while never looking particularly bad at any time.
Let’s take a look at their most recent series and see what it could mean for the Ducks beginning tonight.
Nashville came into the series riding the highest of highs after pulling off a shocking sweep of the Cup-favorite Blackhawks. While Nashville was a cup favorite going into the season and was thought to have a good chance to beat Chicago, no one predicted a sweep.
It would have been easy for the Predators to start their series against the Blues like Anaheim did; lackadaisical and with little urgency.
They kept their foot on the gas, however, jumping out to a 1-0 series lead.
The Blues would tie it up with a 3rd period surge in Game 2, handing the Predators their first loss of the postseason after going on a 5-0 run.
Nashville would respond by taking the next two games to put a 3-1 stranglehold on the series.
The Blues would respond by taking Game 5 at home in a narrow 2-1 victory at Scottrade Center, but Smashville sealed the deal with a 3-1 win at the raucous Bridgestone Arena.
Nashville only lost by 1 in both their defeats at the hands of the Blues.
The Predators proved why they were a popular pick in the preseason polls to make the Stanley Cup Finals in this last series. The team seems to have no obvious weaknesses. Unlike the Oilers, who’s bottom six rarely contributed and who had only 2 better-than-average defensemen to speak of, Nashville is built well from top to bottom.
The Predators racked up a total of 37 points from 15 different players in those 6 games.
While they did not have anyone dominate the scoring like Ryan Getzlaf and Jakob Silfverberg did for the Ducks, they had a great spread and got significant contributions from their vaunted defense corps. The top 3 scores for the Predators were defensemen (Ellis, Jose, and Subban). James Neal continued his postseason resurgence with 3 goals, leading all Predators forwards.
While the top line of Viktor Arvidsson-Ryan Johansen-Filip Forsberg only had 7 combined points in the series, they were a threat the entire time, using speed and skill to generate plenty of scoring chances. This will be the line that the Kesler unit will probably be harassing all series.
Goaltending was, as to be expected, perhaps the strongest aspect of the Predators game.
Pekka Rinne is well settled into his role as playoff hulk, posting a .932 SV% and a 1.86 GAA. That gives him a playoff leading line of an astounding .951 SV% and 1.37 GAA. Yes, having an elite defense in front of you helps, but these are 2003 J.S. Guigere numbers we’re looking at now (Giggy rocked a .945 SV% and 1.62 GAA throughout that incredible Conn Smythe-winning run).
Rinne effectively stoned the Blues and will very likely continue his brick wall ways in the Conference Finals.
As mentioned before, perhaps the only weakness the Predators have is their inexperience in the late rounds of the playoffs.
From an elite defense to depth scoring to phenomenal goaltending, the Ducks will have their work cut out for them in this series.
The Predators showed that they could effectively shut down a St. Louis team that put up somewhat of a fight. They’ll have a tougher challenge in a battle-tested Ducks team looking for redemption from last year’s first round defeat. But if the series against the Blues was any indication, they’ll be up to the challenge.