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Sizing up potential playoff meetings with Detroit and Chicago

Thanks to their win last night, the Predators are locked into the 4 vs. 5 matchup for the first round. Their opponent? Detroit or Chicago.

What are the scenarios for who the Predators will play? Here is a graph courtesy of On The Forecheck:

Preds Win or Preds regulation loss
Lose in OT/SO
 Seeds 4, 5, 6 4, 5, 6
 DET regulation win NSH, DET, CHI DET, NSH, CHI
 DET overtime win NSH, DET, CHI DET, NSH, CHI
 DET shootout win NSH, DET, CHI DET, NSH, CHI
 CHI regulation win NSH, CHI, DET NSH, CHI, DET
 CHI overtime win NSH, DET, CHI NSH, DET, CHI
 CHI shootout win NSH, DET, CHI NSH, DET, CHI

 

Everything will be sorted out Saturday afternoon and/or evening. But now that the Predators’ possible opponents have been narrowed down to two, let’s take a look at some of the pros and cons of facing either Central Division rival…

Reasons to want to play Detroit:

- This isn’t exactly the same Detroit team that hockey fans are accustomed to seeing. Aside from their remarkable 23-game home winning streak, what exactly have the Red Wings done this season that would scare anyone? They are 7-11-3 since that streak ended, looking vulnerable on home ice. Normally a great road team, they boast a sub-.500 record away from home for the first time since 1998-99. Normally solid on special teams, both the power play and penalty kill are ranked in the lower third of the NHL. The Red Wings are a good team, but they aren’t the same as the vaunted Red Wings teams of the past.

- The Predators finally have a team capable of knocking off Detroit. In 2004 and 2008 the Predators were undermanned in multiple ways in first-round exits at the hands of mighty Detroit. If those teams can force Detroit to six games, why can’t this Predators team beat them? Courtesy of the trade deadline pickups, this Predators team has enough experience, skill and depth to beat anybody anywhere – including the Red Wings. The Predators have never been able to say they have a difference-maker (Alexander Radulov) that can go toe-to-toe with Pavel Datsyuk.

- If the Predators were to beat Detroit in the first round, it would mean more to Trotz and company than last year’s series win against Anaheim. Think about it. The Red Wings have been the Predators’ measuring stick since Day 1 in 1998. The Red Wings have squeaked by the Predators twice before in the playoffs, leaving a ‘what-could-have-been’ taste in their mouth. If the Predators were to beat Detroit it would act as a huge catapult for them going into Round 2, and may be the perfect start to a long playoff run.

Areas of concern:

- All of that being said, this prospective first-round opponent still dons the Winged Wheel on their jersey. They still play in one of the toughest barns for opponents to win in. They still ooze experience. They still have weapons up front. They still have solid defense and goaltending. They still have Mike Babcock, one of the best, behind the bench. They are still Detroit. Maybe not in the fashion of years past… but they are still Detroit. And that’s enough to make them a threat against anybody in the playoffs.

- They also still have Pavel Datsyuk, the man everyone calls ‘The Magician’. Datsyuk just might be the most gifted player in hockey today. He does things that others can’t even think of doing. He has moves that can shake defensemen from their jock strap. Believe it or not, he plays as well defensively as he does offensively. Datsyuk has been a thorn in the Predators’ side over the years (59 points in 57 career head-to-head games). With Hal Gill the Predators may be better suited to slow down Datsyuk, but that is awfully hard to do.

- To go along with the first bullet point here, there isn’t anything the Red Wings and their players haven’t seen over the years. They have 10 players on their roster with a Stanley Cup ring. The Predators have one. The Red Wings have played in 22 Game 7’s in their history. The Predators have never participated in a Game 7. Nothing ever surprises Babcock, who hasn’t seen his team get knocked out in the first round since 2006. In fact, since the start of the 1994-95 season the Red Wings have been a first-round exit just three times.

Reasons to want to play Chicago:

- The Blackhawks’ goaltending this season has been incredibly inconsistent, especially against the Predators. In five starts against the Predators this year, Corey Crawford boasted a 4.16 goals-against average, .847 save percentage and was pulled twice. He has been up and down with each passing month, with his best month coming in March. Meanwhile, backup Ray Emery doesn’t have a good history against the Predators. As a member of last year’s Ducks, Emery was lit up by in Round 1 by this Predators team. In his career against the Predators, playoffs or regular season, Emery has a 3.86 GAA and .864 save percentage.

- Regular season head-to-head season series usually don’t mean much in the playoffs, but the Predators had the Blackhawks’ number this season. The Predators went 4-1-1 in the six meetings, with the one regulation loss coming last weekend in which they erased a four-goal deficit. The Predators out-scored Chicago 25-16 in the six games. How much confidence would the Blackhawks really have going into a series with the Predators?

- While special teams have been a strength of the Predators all year, it’s been a weakness for Joel Quenneville and company. Their power play and penalty kill are ranked 24th and 27th, respectively. The Predators’ special teams units performed admirably against the Blackhawks this season, too. The power play clicked at a 35.3% rate, while the penalty kill went 22-for-25 in the six games. Special teams would be a big advantage for the Predators in a series against Chicago.

Areas of concern:

- Chicago might have more explosive offensive weapons than Detroit (though Detroit has more depth and intangibles). Between Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Marian Hossa and Patrick Sharp, the Blackhawks can come at you from all sorts of angles. Every time those players are on the ice, they are a threat to score – no matter who is playing defense. Those players have had success against the Predators over their careers, too.

- The Blackhawks would look different from the team the Predators played against the last two weeks. Top defenseman Duncan Keith, who logs 26:52 of ice-time per night, is back from suspension. Jonathan Toews, the team’s top-line center and unquestioned leader, is expected to return (at some point) from a concussion he suffered in February. Adding Keith and Toews to an already-explosive lineup could spell trouble for anyone they face in Round 1.

 
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