The brackets are set and the teams prepare to chase the Stanley Cup. In the opening round, the Nashville Predators face the surprising Avalanche.
The 2017-18 NHL regular season is complete and left us with several surprises along the way. Few people picked the Nashville Predators to walk away with the Presidents’ Trophy, much less the Central Division crown. But, it actually happened. The Predators finished the season with 117 points, more than any other year in their franchise history. We all knew this team could be good, but the Predators showed us just how good they can be all season.
Nashville was not the only surprise, and they may not be the biggest. The Vegas Golden Knights started the season in astonishing fashion. For a good portion of the year, the Golden Knights looked to be the best team in the league. Additionally, the NHL Network picked the Chicago Blackhawks to win the Stanley Cup. Sorry, but they are not even in the bracket. (Insert “Price is Right” fail horn here.)
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Coming into the season, many pundits picked the Colorado Avalanche to lay in the cellar of the Central Division. They had other plans. Even with trading Matt Duchene away, the Avalanche shocked the NHL with their success. After finishing the 2016-17 season with 48 points, Colorado nearly doubled the output this season. With 95 points, the Avalanche qualified as the second wild-card team in the Western Conference.
Now, they face the Nashville Predators in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Tale of the tape
As fans of the Nashville Predators, we have documented their success all season long. The truth remains; this team is the most balanced team in the league. The roster of the Predators is laced with talent most teams dream about. Filip Forsberg led the team in points with 64, followed by Viktor Arvidsson at 61 and P.K. Subban with 59. Three more players also eclipsed the 50 point plateau: Ryan Johansen (54), Roman Josi (53), and Craig Smith (51). Four players attained 20 or more goals, led by Arvidsson with 29. As a team, the Predators finished 267 total goals, good for seventh in the NHL. Thirteen players had at least 10 goals.
They may be deep offensively, but it was the goaltending that pushed the Predators to the top of the league this year. The combination of Pekka Rinne and Juuse Saros proved potent all season. Rinne finished the season with 42 win, third in the NHL. However, he played in six fewer games than Andrei Vasilevskiy. Rinne also led the NHL with 8 shutouts and 27 goals saved above average. Additionally, Rinne was third in the NHL in High Danger Save percentage (83.33%) for goalie with 2000 minutes or more on the ice.
Saros was just a solid during the season. Though he struggled during the opening of the season, Saros a record of 11-5-7, with a .925 save percentage and 10.09 GSAA. Furthermore, he saved 79.7% of all high-danger chances.
The Avalanche do provide some interesting issues for the Predators. Colorado finished 10th in the NHL in goals overall, and have a top 10 power play. Four Avalanche finished the season with 50 or more points, led by Nathan MacKinnon with 97 total points. Linemate Mikko Rantanen finished with 84 points. Ten players obtained 10 goals or more on the season, providing some needed scoring depth.
The Predators took the season series 4-0 over the Avalanche. Nashville was able to tally four goals per game, allowing only 2 to Colorado per contest. While Rantanen and MacKinnon were able to score multiple points, the Predators held the rest of the Avalanche back. Additionally, the Avalanche only tallied two power-play goals the entire series.
Playoff Series Schedule
Game 1 in Nashville: April 12, 8:30 p.m. Central, NBCSN
Game 2 in Nashville: April 14, 2:00 p.m. Central, NBC/NBCSN
Game 3 in Colorado: April 16, 9:00 p.m. Central, NBCSN
Game 4 in Colorado: April 18, 9:00 p.m. Central, NBCSN
Game 5 in Nashville: April 20, TBD
Game 6 in Colorado: April 22, TBD
Game 7 in Nashville: April 24, TBD
Note: all games will be broadcast on Predators Radio Network and 102.5 The Game.
Last season, the Nashville Predators were the lowest seed on the Western Conference during the playoffs and swept the top-seeded Blackhawks. Can Colorado create the same magic or will the Predators take care of business?