Previous Playoff Meetings…
2008 WCQ: #1 Red Wings over #8 Predators in 6
2004 WCQ: #1 Red Wings over #8 Predators in 6
Tale of the Tape…
Edge: Red Wings… The Wings are better up front, especially with Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg slated 1-2 down the middle.
Edge: Predators… Though the Wings have Nicklas Lidstrom, the Preds’ top pair of Shea Weber and Ryan Suter can be a matchup nightmare. And don’t forget about the addition of Hal Gill.
Edge: Predators… This will be a good battle in net, but there’s one difference here: Pekka Rinne is a steal-a-series goalie. Jimmy Howard is not.
Edge: Predators… The Preds have the edge here. Both of their special teams units are ranked in the top 10, while Detroit’s power play and penalty kill are both in the bottom third.
Edge: Red Wings… Mike Babcock is a veteran when it comes to the playoffs. He has seen it all.
Edge: Red Wings… Many of the Wings’ weapons have been around for a while. They have 10 players with a Cup ring; Nashville has one.
Edge: Predators… The Preds have a slight edge, considering Detroit’s Dan Cleary and Darren Helm are banged up.
Keys to the Series…
1. Match Detroit’s 5-on-5 production… The Red Wings were the NHL’s best 5-on-5 team in the regular season. Last year, the top 5-on-5 team won the Stanley Cup. The Predators rank 10th with a 1.05 for/against ratio while at 5-on-5, which is 0.39 shy of Detroit. Barry Trotz’s crew has to match their 5-on-5 play as best they can and force the Red Wings to win the series with their poor special teams.
2. Contain Datsyuk… It’s easier said than done – but it needs to be done. Datsyuk is more than just a gifted player. He’s a game-changer. The Predators hope he’s not a series-changer like Ryan Kesler in Round 2 last spring. The Predators know Datsyuk well, yet always get lit up by the crafty Russian. Having home ice and the leg up on matchups will help; so will having Hal Gill. But they can’t let Datsyuk go crazy on the stat sheet.
1. Flip the switch… One of the only reasons why pundits are picking Detroit is because, well, they’re Detroit. This is a team that went 7-11-4 in their final 22 games of the season. The Red Wings are below-average on the road and in special teams; they are normally good in those categories. These are not the same vaunted Red Wings teams of the past. If anyone can flip the switch it is Detroit, and they’ll need to do so against the confident Predators.
2. Howard out-play Rinne… As stated above, the Predators have the edge in net because of Rinne. If Rinne out-performs Howard, the Red Wings could be exiting stage left quicker than they’d like. Howard has to make bigger saves in the clutch than Rinne. Howard has to will his team more than Rinne. Put simply, he has to out-perform Rinne for the Red Wings to prevail.
Hal Gill… Given his experience and defensive style, Gill may have been the most valuable addition at the trade deadline. Gill has been-there done-that in the playoffs and he’s going to be a key piece for the Predators. We know Shea Weber and Ryan Suter can shut down top forwards, but can Gill contain the second-liners that burned Nashville last spring? Also, don’t undervalue his experience. He’s the only player on the Predators roster that has won a series against Detroit.
Valterri Filppula… Filppula had his breakout season for the Red Wings this season, notching 66 points in 81 games. He has been effective and consistent all year, and Babcock and company will want that same Filppula to show up here against Nashville. Much of the attention will be on Datsyuk and Zetterberg. Can Filppula fly under the radar in this series and be a difference-maker?
Why the Predators will win…
It’s their time. The Predators have put together this blueprint too successfully for too long for it not to work in the playoffs. And at some point they are going to have to knock off their benchmark – Detroit – to get where they want to be. They’ve never been in a better position to do so. Everyone knows about the big three: Weber, Suter and Rinne. Well that became the big four last month with the return of Alexander Radulov (who should play a big role in this series). Everything GM David Poile has done this season has been geared toward winning now, and his team has all the ingredients to go deep.
Why the Red Wings will win…
As the saying goes: Because they are Detroit. After the 2006 upset against Edmonton – the biggest upset in Stanley Cup Playoffs history – Babcock’s teams have gotten out of the first round in five straight postseasons. They have Lidstrom, Datsyuk and Zetterberg. They also have Johan Franzen, who has been a clutch playoff performer his whole career. Moreover, the Red Wings still have the mystique on their side and 11 championship banners in the rafters. They aren’t a good road team, but if they can steal one or two in Nashville the Red Wings can bank on their tremendous home record to win them the series.
This series is going to be dynamite. Probably the best in the West. There will be momentum changes. There will be overtime. Tensions will be high. Weber and Suter will slug it out against Datsyuk and Zetterberg. But this is the Predators’ series to lose. It means more to them. If they can’t beat Detroit and go deep now, when will they ever do so?
Prediction: Predators in 6