The Nashville Predators were chosen to have a short trip in the Stanley Cup Playoffs but have proven the experts wrong.
The Predators dispatched the Anaheim Ducks in a franchise-first seventh game 2-1 and have a quick turnaround to face the San Jose Sharks. The Sharks took care of the favored Los Angeles Kings in only five games and have been waiting to see who they would play in this round.
That may be their biggest advantage over the Nashville Predators, the fact that they are well rested and healed up after a quick series. That can also work against you as the Tampa Bay Lightning saw in their first game against the New York Islanders. You can come out rusty against a team that has been playing hard and continues that way in the first game.
Once again, the “experts” are picking against the Nashville Predators. You will see that almost everyone has the San Jose Sharks moving to the Western Conference Finals. The Predators may have something to say about that as they certainly embrace the underdog role.
During the regular season, these two teams couldn’t have been much closer stats-wise. The Sharks had 98 Points in the standings to the Preds 96. You can take a look at their scoring and control stats here from War-on-Ice:
Their stats are almost identical across the board. One thing to remember, though, and this showed in the Predators first series, is that San Jose’s stats were from the Pacific Division which was much easier than the Central Division. Three of the bottom five teams in the league and four of the bottom seven were from the Pacific.
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The Sharks had six players with 19 or more goals, including
with 38. Pavelski also scored five goals in the five games against the Kings. Defenseman
is a beast who can score as well. They are four lines deep and will test the Predators depth by rolling all four lines to keep forwards fresh.
The Predators can counter with two 30 goal scorers in Filip Forsberg and James Neal along with 20 goal scorers Craig Smith and Shea Weber. Add in Ryan Johansen and “Playoff” Colin Wilson and you can match up with the Sharks but the Predators will need more scoring from their forwards up and down the lineup.
The place that the Nashville Predators are superior to the Sharks and most every other team in the league is their top two defensive pairings. Weber, Roman Josi, Ryan Ellis and Mattias Ekholm can make life miserable at both ends of the ice for any team and they were the difference against the Ducks.
The Defense also keeps the puck off of goaltender Pekka Rinne in the High Danger area. That is the first of two reasons that the Predators could win this series. Rinne with the superior defense in front of him is better than Martin Jones backing the Sharks defense.
The other reason is that though the Predators were horrendous statistically against the Ducks on the Power Play scoring only once in 26 chances, they looked a lot better than that. They are going to score on the Sharks 18th ranked Penalty Kill and if some of that Puck Luck turns the other way, they could score a lot.
We are also a firm believer that Peter Laviolette is a special coach in the playoffs. He knows how to take a good team and make them better and his record shows that. San Jose is a much better road team than home team. They led the league in away wins and were the only playoff team with anything close to their losing record at home.
Coach Lavy and the Predators will find a way to win at least one of the two games if not both in San Jose and return to the friendly confines of Bridgestone Arena and their 7th man crowd to equalize that road record of the Sharks.
In the end, the Nashville Predators win the series in six games.
This has the makings of a very special season for the Predators and San Jose is just another step on the way.