Nashville Predators: Vegas Conference Final Matchup Would Be Epic

LAS VEGAS, NV - JANUARY 2: Marc-Andre Fleury
LAS VEGAS, NV - JANUARY 2: Marc-Andre Fleury /

An unusual suspect is surfacing in the NHL as the Vegas Golden Knights are tearing through the West, and standing in the way of the Nashville Predators.

The media darling that is Vegas isn’t fizzling out. In fact, they’re gaining strength. They’ve won nine of their last ten, and are doing it in flashy fashion. Their style of play fits the town they call home.

The Nashville Predators have now played them twice, losing both times. It’s hard to say this, but the Predators have met their match if they want to return to the Stanley Cup. It’s not Chicago, St. Louis or anyone else in the West that the Predators should be more worried about than the Golden Knights.

I’m still fairly confident that the Predators have the talent and leadership to navigate through the rest of the regular season with a high playoff seed. Additionally, they’ve got the firepower to make more noise in the playoffs. However, Vegas can match the Predators stride for stride. That’s why a meeting the conference final would be a dream scenario for all hockey fans.

The first two meetings

These two have already played twice, both ending in Vegas victories. The first meeting came in Nashville, a game that the Predators should have won. They didn’t protect a one-goal lead with less than a minute remaining in the game. Once it got to a shootout, Vegas sealed it.

The latest chapter in this new series with Vegas opened 2018 for the Nashville Predators. They simply got dominated by a highly-skilled defensive effort from Vegas. The Golden Knights pounced on the Nashville Predators in a short time frame, while getting a superb effort in net from Marc-Andre Fleury.

A seven-game series between these two elite teams would be must-watch for every sports fan. It’s very conceivable that this ends up happening. I believe both teams will battle it out for one of the top three seeds in the West. Next meeting with Vegas is back in Nashville later this month.

What makes Vegas so fun

Let’s go ahead and take away the obvious that they play in Las Vegas. That alone makes this expansion team so intriguing. We don’t see expansion teams very often in the four major sports. When we have, it’s very rare that we see them have this much success. To put into perspective, check out this interesting nugget from NHL Public Relations:

The Golden Knights have already matched the number of wins, 28, that Nashville had in their inaugural season. Now you can make a solid debate that Vegas has enjoyed much better expansion rules to put together a better roster, but that’s a discussion for another day.

Another reason this potential conference final matchup would be interesting is the James Neal factor. Neal has fit in nicely with his new team, and it’s still tough to swallow that the Predators let him go. You can argue that they haven’t suffered from losing him, but Neal was one of those guys you hoped would retire a Predator.  Neal has 17 goals in 40 games this season, he’s big part of the depth this team has.

Finally, I have to give kudos to the home crowd that showed up in the last meeting between both teams. That crowd was electric and reminded me a lot of the Smashville faithful. Sometimes you have to give credit where credit is due, and that crowd would make for a fun playoff atmosphere. It felt like a playoff game with major implications in the only visit the Predators will make to Sin City in the regular season.

Who would have the nod

This would be a series that would be dominated by the home team. Teams like the Predators and Golden Knights feed off of their home crowds and make it extremely tough for the opposition. Depending on who gets the higher seed, they might get the slight advantage. I would have it going seven games without a doubt.

With Vegas winning the first two meetings ever, I have to give them the slight edge with where the Predators sit right now. Their depth at every position makes them difficult to deal with. The Nashville Predators did a nice job in both games hanging in there, so I’m not ready to say they would have no chance at taking down Vegas and ending the Cinderella story. The Predators do have goaltending edge with Pekka Rinne, and that’s vital in the playoffs.

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Seriously though, how intriguing would it be to watch Nashville have the distinction of the team looking to take down the fun, up and coming franchise? There would be massive storylines all over the board, and ratings would be enormous.  It’s not far-fetched at all that this dream conference final matchup happens.