Nashville Predators Battleground in California
After a fantastic Game 7 on the road, the Nashville Predators have moved onto the second round of the playoffs for the first time since 2012. The consensus, if not unanimous underdogs, defied the odds and the experts and beat a perennial playoff contender in the Anaheim Ducks on the road and gave notice that the Predators may indeed be a force to contend with this post-season. That all depends on how well the Tennessean upstarts fare against their second round opponents the San Jose Sharks.
While Nashville and Anaheim faced off in a seven-game marathon over three time zones and untold miles another battle raged between longtime inter-state rivals the San Jose Sharks and the Los Angeles Kings.
In a surprisingly short 5 game series, the Sharks managed to dispatch the heavily favorited Kings and move onto the 2nd round early and rest up while they patiently awaited the outcome of the Predators vs Ducks series.
With the Ducks and Kings both eliminated in the first round the stage was set for Nashville and San Jose to face each other in the post-season for the first time since 2007.
Sharks 1st Round Highlights
This guy is a machine and the total package and was more than happy to show that off in the first round as he led the Sharks in scoring with 8 points (2g,6a) with 3 of those being on the powerplay. While technically a defenseman Burns is just as comfortable as playing as a forward, in a similar fashion to our own Roman Josi, by joining in on the rush or even setting up behind the net before returning back to the blue line. It’s this type of versatility that is going to give the Predators all sorts of problems on both ends of the ice whenever Brent Burns is out there. Did I forget to mention he also had a whopping 75 points (27g, 48a) in the regular season? He’s going to be a key player in this series one way or the other
Despite being 36 years old Thornton is still a top line mainstay and an elite two-way forward who can shut down the best of them while connecting on passes that leave everyone but his teammates shaking their heads in frustration. Heading into the playoffs “Jumbo” Joe was coming off of his best regular season performance since 2010 and lead the San Jose Sharks in scoring with 82 points (19g, 63a) and chipped in with 3 points (1g, 2a) of his own so far this post-season. With a whopping 1367 regular season games of experience under his belt, Thornton has seen and done it all in his career. That is everything except win a Stanley Cup and with the window of opportunity closing more and more each year you can expect Joe Thornton to bring his best this series and cause all sorts of matchup chaos for the Predators.
Joe Pavelski, Patrick Marleau, and Logan Couture. An ensemble cast of longtime veterans, these are the guys that the Sharks are going to throw at the Predators whenever they can. They’re the key pieces of a formidable top 6 and they each had at least four points or better in the first round. The Sharks were 4th in the league in scoring this year and it was thanks to players like these that San Jose’s offense was as potent as it was.
Special Teams After Round 1
- Powerplay 3.8%
- PP Opportunities 1/26
- Penalty Kill 84%
- PK Opportunities 21/25
San Jose Sharks:
- Powerplay 23.8%
- PP Opportunities 5/21
- Penalty Kill 78.6%
- PK Opportunities 11/14
Special teams will be just as important in this round of the playoffs as they were against the Ducks. The stalwart Anaheim defense all but extinguished the Predators powerplay but being able to kill off penalties time and time again was a major reason why Nashville went onto the next round. Thankfully the Sharks defense isn’t nearly as potent as our first round opponent’s and the Predators should be able to start scoring more on the man advantage.
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Predators Key Advantages
Pekka Rinne can steal this series. San Jose’s starter Martin Jones is a competent but inexperienced netminder who has only had one full NHL season as a starter and 7 playoff appearances to his name and is perhaps the biggest mismatch in this series. Rinne was spectacular more often than not in Round 1 and if he can show more of the same brilliance in the Predators second matchup he’ll be able to grab a few extra wins for Nashville along the way.
The Predators have momentum. While ending a series early and resting up for the next round is ideal it can sometimes be a mixed blessing. The Sharks will have had a full week off and will be facing a Predators team that has won two games in a row and their first Game 7 in franchise history and despite only two days of rest will be ready to keep the success coming. San Jose has a lot of veteran players that may not be phased by the long down time but any advantage is a welcome one and the Predators might be able to get the jump on the Sharks and grab an early win on the road.
My Prediction: Predators In 6
Nashville has already proven that they can take on the best that the Pacific has to offer by taking down the Ducks and their special teams juggernaut by sticking to even strength play and by not taking unnecessary penalties. It won’t be pretty, the Sharks are a much more offensively minded squad than the Ducks and love to bury teams under a heap of goals that they can’t hope to overcome.
The Predators biggest challenge will be shutting down San Jose’s top forward lines and keeping them off the scoresheet while our depth players contribute to the offense. The Ellis and Ekholm line stood out well in the first round and will need to pick up the slack again while Weber and Josi are busy logging top minutes trying to shut down the Joe Thorton line and the ever formidable Brent Burns threat. A return to form from Mike Ribeiro, who’s first round performance left a lot to be desired , would also go a long way in helping the Predators reach the conference finals for the first time ever.
Let’s go Predators! It’s time to take over California.