Nashville Predators: With two evenly matched teams, Game 1 looms large

(Photo by John Russell/NHLI via Getty Images)
(Photo by John Russell/NHLI via Getty Images) /
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The second-round matchup between the Nashville Predators and Winnipeg Jets presents two balanced teams. Which one has the advantage?

When it comes to experience in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, the Nashville Predators have more than most. This is true, especially when compared to their second-round opponents, the Winnipeg Jets. However, it is only the fifth time the Predators have made the second-round. Now, they face arguably their toughest opponent in order to continue their run to the Stanley Cup.

By this time, we all know the fact. The Predators were the best team in the NHL this season, while the Jets were three points behind. They split a five-game regular season series in which the teams tallied 42 total goals. The Jets scored 10 more total goals on the year, while the Predators stopped seven more. The two teams are evenly matched. Coming into the series, fans and experts give the Predators a very slight advantage to win the series, mostly due to home ice advantage.

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We know the series will be physical. We also know it can be high scoring. It all starts with Game 1.

Tale of the tape

There is no doubting the balance both these teams possess. The Jets feature one of the best

scorers in the game in Blake Wheeler, though almost half of his points come during the power play. Patrik Laine was second in the NHL with 44 goals, 20 coming during the man advantage. But the Predators’ roster is filled with depth no other team boasts.

The second line of Kyle Turris, Craig Smith, and Kevin Fiala gained 15 points against the Jets during the season, including 8 goals. But, it was the third line that stepped forward during the first round. The combination of Nick Bonino, Colton Sisson, and Austin Watson gained 19 points in the opening round against the Avalanche.

During the opening round series against the Minnesota Wild, Mark Scheifele lead the way with four goals. Only one came during even-strength, and he was the only player to score on the power play. While the Jets have the best power play in the NHL, they scored on three of 13 chances. Dustin Byfuglien assisted on five goals, including two on the power play.

The key to the game is simple: the Predators must stay out of the penalty box. While called for the most penalties minutes of all teams in the league, Nashville cannot allow themselves to be drawn into ignorant penalties. The Jets will play physical. Their size can be a problem for the Predators, and we witnessed their willingness to play after the whistle during the season. If the Predators want to win Game 1, staying out of the box will be crucial.

Pekka Rinne struggled early in the first round, but finished with a shutout of the Avalanche. However, Connor Hellebuyck has not allowed a goal in two straight games.

Projected Lineup

One advantage the Predators have tonight is health. Yannick Weber is the only player listed as injured at this point. On the other hand, the Jets have several questions. Hellebuyck is expected to play, but does have a shoulder concern. Nikolaj Ehlers, Toby Enstrom, Matheiu Perreault, and Laine are all listed probable for tonight. If the Jets are missing any of these players tonight, the Predators win.

Austin Watson missed two days of practice, though he did participate in the optional skate this morning. It is speculated his absence was only for maintenance. Based on practices this week, here is tonight’s projected line-up.

Forwards

Filip Forsberg – Ryan Johansen – Viktor Arvidsson

Kevin Fiala – Kyle Turris – Craig Smith

Colton Sissons – Nick Bonino – Calle Jarnkrok

Miikka Salomaki – Mike Fisher – Scott Hartnell / Ryan Hartman

Defense

Roman Josi – Ryan Ellis

Mattias Ekholm – P.K. Subban

Alexei Emelin – Matt Irwin

Goaltenders

Pekka Rinne

Juuse Saros

Next: Looking back at every 2nd round match-up in Preds history

Where to watch

Now that we have reached the second round of the playoffs, game action moves to NBC. Tonight’s game from Bridgestone Arena will air on NBCSN with puck drop at 7:00 p.m. Central. You can also listen to the game on 102.5 The Game in Nashville.