Every playoff matchup will receive a once-over prior to puck drop this week, including Bourne’s prediction, explanation and final thought on each. He does not hate your team. He does not love your team. He is just talking hockey.
Previously: #2 Boston Bruins vs. #7 Washington Capitals
#4 Nashville Predators vs. #5 Detroit Red Wings
Season matchup: Tied at 3-3-0
Who wins the series: The Predators
How many games: All of seven, possibly a few minutes more
Please do explain:
The Nashville Predators are that girl in high school that’s super nice, can hang out with the guys, but gets looked over when it comes to the dating scene. Then you run into her a handful of years later and find out she’s blossomed into an absolute smokeshow, and you think “I did not see that coming.”
The Preds have grown into their sexy. They have two D-men I’d put in the NHL’s top five, a goalie I’d do the same with, and, suddenly an offensive talent that can do this if the mood strikes him right:
Gahhhh I love that goal so much.
But still, Detroit possesses their own cast of decent characters – there’s Nicky Norris, Dangly Datsyuk and Z….um….Zesty Zetterberg? They have some talent, is the point. Let’s look at the numbers to see how these teams stack up.
The Detroit Red Wings are the NHL’s best 5-on-5 team (1.44 goals for/against ratio), while the Predators possess the NHL’s best powerplay (21.6%). The Preds, in general, own the Red Wings when it comes to special teams – the Wings PP is 22nd in the league (mind boggling when you think of their talent). On the PK side, the Preds are 10th in the League, while the Wings sit at 17th. (Stat o’ the day – Suter and Weber have combined for more powerplay points, 47, than Datsyuk and Zetterberg, 37.)
That special teams dominance would be a big deal in this series if it weren’t for one thing: neither team ever actually takes penalties.
The Red Wings are second in the NHL in average-PIMs-per-game at 8.5, while the Predators are first at 8.4. Sooo, yeah – that kind of minimizes that advantage, and elevates the importance of the Wings great 5-on-5 play.
Another leg up for the Red Wings sits in the shot categories – they’re fifth in average shots taken per game (32.2), and third in shots allowed (27.0), while the Predators are 25th (27.6) and 20th (30.8), respectively. The pressure is going to be on Pekka Rinne, who led the NHL with 43 wins this season.
Numbers-wise, Jimmy Howard can hang though. He was fifth in wins (35), and found himself ahead of Rinne in goals-against-average (2.13 to 2.39), and just behind him in save percentage (.920 to .923).
Without the use of their potent powerplay, the Preds are going to have to find other ways to crack Howard and the Wings, and I think they can. They finished with 11 skaters that scored double digit goals this year, showing they have enough depth to find the back of the net, even when a few guys are off.
The Wings had 11 of their own, but I think in the end the difference will be the Predators more physical style of play. The Wings were garbage on the road this year (17-21-3), and that building in Nashville is going to be rocking. With a cast of forwards that can hit and a few bruising defenseman, I think they’ll wear down a veteran Red Wings team after seven long, hard-fought games.
What I’m excited to find out:
If Alexander Radulov can contribute in the playoffs.
The big reason sooo many people are picking Nashville to win (I can’t believe how many, honestly) is because they were good before, then they added Radulov. But NHL playoffs are vicious unlike the style of play he’s seen over the past few years, so I want to know if he shies away from the contact, or thrives under it.
This the first year I think the Predators truly “believe.” I’m sure they’ve known they were good in the past, but once you make the big step from saying you think you can win to believing it, you’re tough to beat. I think that mindset will help them past the Wings.