Wed Apr 11, 2012 Red Wings Predators 7:00 PM CBC/CNBC
Fri Apr 13, 2012 Red Wings Predators 6:30 PM CBC/CNBC
Sun Apr 15, 2012 Predators Red Wings 11:00 AM CBC/NBC
Tue Apr 17, 2012 Predators Red Wings 6:30 PM CBC/NBCSN
Fri Apr 20, 2012 Red Wings Predators 7:00 PM CBC/CNBC
Sun Apr 22, 2012 Predators Red Wings Time/TV: TBD
Tue Apr 24, 2012 Red Wings Predators Time/TV: TBD
The Central Division this season was considered by many to be the toughest and highest profiled this season in the NHL, and why not. This is a division that includes the St. Louis Blues, Chicago Blackhawks and this year’s four versus five matchup with the Nashville Predators up against the Detroit Red Wings. For years, the Wings seen as a bit of a measuring stick for the all the Central division teams, including the Predators.
So it’s quite fitting that the year in which the Predators are best poised to start the Stanley Cup playoffs, and start it up against Detroit as they start their journey towards making a Stanley Cup run. If the Preds are able to send the Red Wings home for the summer and make a run in the spring, and it will be a huge boast to their confidence, helping their way further on in the playoffs.
One of the most talked about additions in the second-half of the season was the return of Alexander Radulov. The KHL MVP from this past season, has returned to the NHL, and has played at almost a point a game pace. Combine him with the team’s trade deadline additions of defenseman Hal Gill and forwards Paul Gaustad and Andrei Kostitsyn. Make this Nashville team much more dangerous than the team that made it to the Western Conference semis last season…
Alexander Radulov has only played in 10 career Stanley Cup playoff games, however, the skilled forward has put up an impressive five goals in that time. The Nashville forward has come a long way since his last trip to the playoffs as a 21-year-old in 2008. He is a different player, his use of people on the ice, and his strength and size are large factors for his growth. Radulov is much bigger than he was back in 2008 as well which also contributes to his enhanced abilities. Besides the smaller ice surface from the KHL, the game has changed since Radulov left and he has had to adjust to a more aggressive fore-check and defensemen constantly jumping into the play. But the transition has gone well since his return and there’s no doubt he can be a difference-maker in this series.
While injuries have derailed what was turning into a special season for Jimmy Howard, he managed to get in five starts at the end of the season after returning from a groin injury. The Red Wings will need him on top of his game in order to keep up with Nashville’s Pekka Rinne, who led the league with 43 wins. Even though, Rinne shrugged off concerns about his heavy workload, his 73 games played were the second most in the league, and no goalie faced more shots or made more saves this season than Rinne. This has to be a concern for the Preds especially after an injury occurred to their backup in the final period of the season, Anders Lindback.
Defenseman Ryan Suter could be playing his final games with the Nashville organization, as he is a potential unrestricted free agent this summer. Making this an interesting subplot to this series to say the least. If the Predators are able to make a long playoff run, the chances of him staying in Nashville have to increase dramatically. However, if they lose early, he might decide that his best chance to win a Stanley Cup is outside of Nashville.
Detroit has the money to spend this summer and Suter would be at the top of the Red Wings’ wish list if he becomes available. What better way to show that he has a better chance at a Stanley Cup in Detroit than by beating the Predators in the first round? A first-round series win for Detroit could pay off now and on July 1.
While earning the No. 4 seed was crucial for the Predators, especially when you consider Detroit’s struggles on the road this season. Nobody in the league had as big a swing when it came to success at home versus winning on the road. At Joe Louis Arena, the Red Wings carved a spot in the NHL record books with their home win streak. Yet, on the road they were just 17-21-3. The silver lining for Detroit is the short trip to Nashville to start the playoffs rather than a long trip west to play a Pacific team, like they have the past two seasons with a pair of series each against Phoenix and San Jose.
The interesting thing is that all the pressure might be on the Predators in this match up. The aggressive pursuit of a Stanley Cup this season by Predators GM David Poile is admirable. He sent a clear message to his players, Nashville fans and the rest of the league when he loaded up for this playoff run. But with those moves came increased fans expectations, and this might be the most pressure any Nashville team has felt to win. While the team surpassed expectations last season, by not making it to at least the same spot this, might be seen as a huge step backwards for this franchise.
The Predators’ power play remains extremely potent, sitting at the top of the league at 21.6 percent thanks in large part to defenseman Shaw Weber and Suter. Both do a fantastic job getting pucks on net, while Weber’s shot from the point one of the most dangerous in the game. The man has shot pucks through the net, that right, THROUGH IT! While Detroit’s penalty kill has been average this season, sitting at No. 18 in the NHL at 81.8 percent. This could be a large factor between two very close opponents.
At the trade deadline, the Predators paid a steep price in sending a first-round pick to Buffalo for Paul Gaustad, a player who the Red Wings were also very interested in at the trade deadline. It will be well worth it if he helps the Predators advance in the playoffs by continuing to win crucial face-offs against a Red Wings team that thrives on puck possession. He wins an impressive 57.3 percent of his face-offs, which could help neutralize Pavel Datsyuk, who is outstanding as well at 56.2 percent. But if Nashville loses the series and Gaustad ends up leaving as a free agent on July 1, that deal might not hold up well to scrutiny this summer, and for seasons to come. Especially in a capped NHL system where first round draft picks are like gold!
Darren Helm’s health is an issue for Detroit, and while the Red Wings have managed to get their most important players back on the ice in time for the playoffs. But the loss of Helm can’t be underestimated. He’s still recovering from a knee injury and the Wings remain optimistic Helm will be back in time for Game 2 of this series. Detroit will need his speed and presence on the penalty kill against Nashville’s potent power play. If Helm is ineffective in his return from the injury, that could be trouble for the Red Wings.
Either way, an extremely talented team will be out after one round. Detroit’s road struggles are a concern and Nashville’s loud building isn’t the best place to try to solve them. The Predators have the best shutdown D pair in hockey, more depth up front, better special teams and a slight edge in goal. It’ll be just enough to get by. With an ailing power play, Detroit is flying on one wing. The Predators are solid from goalie Pekka Rinne out and Alexander Radulov boosts the offence so this could finally be the year Nashville could see a long playoff run in their future.
Smyth: Predators in 6
Blais: Predators in 5
Diceman: Predators in 6
Pinder: Predators in 5
Denstedt: Red Wings in 6
Jameson: Predators in 7
Donnelly: Predators in 7.