By Amanda DiPaolo
For the first time in franchise history, the Nashville Predators will be playing hockey in May. Round 2 of the Stanley Cup playoffs starts on Thursday night and the Predators will be playing the regular season’s best team, the Vancouver Canucks.
The Predators and Canucks split their series at two games each during the regular season. Despite the split, looking at statistics alone would suggest the Canucks are the much stronger team.
The Canucks finished the season with 117 points, as opposed to the Predators 99 points, including 10 more wins than Nashville.
While the Canucks have two 41 goal scorers in Daniel Sedin and Ryan Kesler, they also have 26 goal scorer, Alex Burrows as well as Henrik Sedin and Mikael Samuelsson who have 18 and 19 goals respectively, the Predators have seen it before. Corey Perry, Ryan Getzlaf and Bobby Ryan may have been the hottest line in the League going into the playoffs and they were relatively effectively shut down.
During the season series between the two clubs, the Predators only scored 8 goals on Roberto Luongo. But the Canucks only scored 6 goals on Rinne and 50% of them came off the stick of Alex Burrows. The Predators will need to contain the round 1 hero. Other goal scorers included Daniel Sedin, who scored the lone power play goal between either club in four games. Defensemen Lee Sweatt and Aaron Rome scored the other two goals for the Canucks, not exactly the offensive threats who are expected to score.
The Legwand and Fisher lines will be charged with shutting down the Sedin and Kesler lines. If the Predators top centers do their jobs, the series will again come down to a battle of depth. Can Tootoo, along with his linemates (Spaling and Smithson) continue to beat the opponents defenders? And having Steve Sullivan on the fourth line certainly doesn’t hurt Nashville’s chances. Sullivan scored two goals during the first round of the playoffs.
In goal, Rinne and Luongo are both Vezina nominated goaltenders. While Luongo had strong offense to help the team score goals to win games, the team defense was crippled by injuries throughout the season. Despite the injuries, the Canucks still won the Jennings Trophy as the team that gave up the fewest goals in the League.
The Predators allowed only 10 more goals than the Canucks did on the season. Nashville’s defense is considered to be among the strongest in the League, but there were no Sedins, Burrows, or Keslers to rely on for 30 or 40 goals.
Expect Nashville to come out flying during the first game in an attempt to take advantage of a tired Cancuks team that took 7 grueling games to beat the defending Stanley Cup Champion Chicago Blackhawks.
Mentally, the Predators will have an advantage and will want to put more doubt in the minds of the Canucks. Vancouver blew a 3-0 series lead, allowing Chicago to fight back into the series, taking the Canucks to sudden death overtime to see who advances. Olympic gold medalist Roberto Luongo actually said after the OT win that guaranteed the Canucks a trip to the second round that the win was bigger than the Olympic gold medal game against the Americans in February 2010. Getting to the second round of the playoffs was bigger than a Gold medal.
Nashville needs to set the tone early and play physically. But while fans of both teams will talk smack suggesting their team will easily dispose of their opponent, don’t expect the Canucks to make that same mistake.
Alex Burrows, the overtime hero, is quoted on the Canucks homepage talking about the Predators. “Their work ethic, their defensive system is unparalleled with any other team in the league. If we can match their work ethic and make sure we play solid defensively we’ll be in good shape. They have a really good team and we have to respect them,” he said.
While the long list of injuries that plagued most of Vancouver’s season has healed, Vancouver’s Lee Sweatt has a broken foot. Manny Malholtra is out with an eye injury. Cory Schneider is questionable for Game 1, though he wouldn’t start in goal anyway. Sami Salo is also questionable for Thursday night. Salo is out with an undisclosed injury.
The Nashville Predators offense would receive a boost if Martin Erat could return to the lineup. Erat was hit by Jaarko Ruutu early in Game 4. The Predators forward left the game and has not returned since, however, he has practiced with the team the last two days. According to TSN, Erat is listed as probable for game 1 Thursday night.
Photo Credit: AP
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