Regular Season: The two clubs split the season series two-two, with each winning a couple of low-scoring affairs. The Canucks prevailed 2-1 and 3-1 while the Preds were 3-0 and 3-1 winners. In terms of head-to-head match-ups, there wasn’t a lot to separate these two teams this season.
History: None, really. The Predators have never made it past the first round of the playoffs before now. The clubs have never met in the post-season before and don’t have much of a rivalry heading into this particular series. I’m sure they’ll find something to hate about each other by mid-May however (Jordan Tootoo and Alex Burrows spring to mind).
The Case for Vancouver: The Canucks were the league’s best team during the regular season and were able to slay their nemesis, the Chicago Blackhawks, in the first round. Even with Manny Malholtra down for the count, there really isn’t a glaring weakness to Vancouver’s game: they have high octane forwards in the Sedins, a Selke candidate in Ryan Kesler, capable support players in Alex Burrows, Mikael Samuelsson, Chris Higgins, Mason Raymond and Raffi Torres and a blueline stocked from one to seven with NHL veterans. Oh, and enviable redundancy in net with Roberto Lunogo and Cory Schneider. As such, Vancouver was top-five in just about every statistical category you can name.
The Case for Nashville: David Poile and Barry Trotz have become very adept at squeezing blood from stones over the years. Despite obvious budgetary restraints, Nashville continually ices a competitive product. Part of the reason for that this season was the play of Shea Weber, Ryan Suter and Pekka Rinne, a collection of some of the best defensive performers in the league currently. Weber was justifiably nominated for a Norris trophy while Rinne found his way onto the Vezina ballot. The Predators also quietly boast some of the best defensive forwards in the league in Joel Ward and David Legwand. The pair are frequently matched against other top-lines by Barry Trotz and still managed to finish above board in terms of possession by years end. Overall, the Predators were one of the best teams in the league in terms of suppressing shots and goals against at even strength this season and that was one of the main reasons they were able to beat the Ducks in the first round.
5-on-5 GF/GA ratio:Vancouver, 1.32 (2nd); Nashvill,e 1.16 (6th)
PP: Vancouver 24.3%, (1st); Nashville, 15.2% (26th)
PK: Vancouver, 85.6% (3rd); Nashville, 84.9 (5th)
Goal Differential/game: Vancouver, +0.95; Nashville, +0.28
In the first round, The Sedin twins seemed to struggled against the tight checking of Dave Bolland at even strength. They’ll face a similar threat in this series in David Legwand/Joel Ward and the pairing of Weber and Suter. The Canucks have greater offensive depth than the Predators and better special teams (particularly the PP), but the Preds under Barry Trotz are very, very good at suppressing their opponents offense. If this series is to be the mis-match it appears to be, the Sedins will have to find a way to more consistently battle through the Predators shut-down forwards and defense.
Nashville’s strengths are almost all met or exceeded by the Canucks and Vancouver has vastly superior firepower besides. The Predators aren’t going to make life easy for Vancouver, but they simply don’t have the horses to compete with the Presidents Trophy winners. Canucks in five.