A new rivalry may be born as the Nashville Predators and Dallas Stars will meet for the first time in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
How perfect does this playoff scenario work out for the NHL as the Nashville Predators and Dallas Stars will meet in the first round of the playoffs? Not only are they two similar style teams, but they facing off in the NHL Winter Classic next January. These two also played some thrilling regular-season matchups, with Nashville winning the series 3-2.
The Predators really had to grind through the regular season to get where they finished in the standings. Nothing came easy for them to defend their Central Division crown. They dealt with a rash of injuries to key players and had to build chemistry with a roster that changed constantly. Head coach Peter Laviolette really had to work his magic in constructing the lines each game, and GM David Poile deserves a ton of credit for adding key players before the trade deadline.
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You can argue that this is top to bottom the best Predators roster in franchise history. The scary part is this team is a roller coaster ride. They rose to the occasion when it mattered most, but they also benefited from a sputtering Winnipeg Jets team. They’re division champs after reaching 100 points in the standings, but the slate is wiped clean now. They get a hungry Stars team that is capable of taking this series if Nashville lets up at all.
Their regular season series
Neither team has a huge edge over the other in any category. That’s what makes this matchup so intriguing. They played very tight in their five regular-season meetings, with every game finishing with a margin of two goals or less. Two of Nashville’s three wins came in overtime. By no means did Nashville look like the superior team in any of their wins over Dallas. That’s what you have to remember despite Nashville being the division champs and winning the season series.
I will give the Predators the slightest of an edge in two areas; Pekka Rinne in net and the top line featuring Ryan Johansen, Viktor Arvidsson, and Filip Forsberg. Starting with the goaltending, Rinne’s playoff deficiencies are well-documented. However, his problems are most noted for his troubles against Pittsburgh and Winnipeg. He’s been solid in other playoff series, and he’s the more trusted goaltender than Ben Bishop or Anton Khudobin for the Stars. That’s not to say that Nashville is going to run the score up on either goaltender, because the Stars are one of the top defensive teams in the NHL. Goals will not come easy, and I fully expect this series to be a grind. Every goal will come at a premium.
Rinne had three starts against Dallas in the regular season, going 1-2. He had a save percentage of .916 and gave up eight goals over those three starts. I’m expecting Khudobin to be in net for the Stars as he shut down the Predators in four starts against them, recording a save percentage of just under 95. Four games is a small sample size, and I still trust Rinne’s playoffs experience to come through over Khudobin.
Call me crazy, but the Predators power play has shown mild improvement down the stretch of the season. They just buried themselves so deep in this category that they could never recover. The slate is wiped clean now and their new pieces like Brian Boyle and Wayne Simmonds will help. Their penalty kill percentage finishes sixth in the league, right behind Dallas’ at fifth. Two teams who are some of the best at clamping down and not allowing power-play goals. Another reason I believe this will be a low-scoring series.
Dallas has a great top line led by Tyler Seguin and Alexander Radulov. I’m sure Dallas fans think they have the better top line. Leaving the bias out of it, I like the chemistry that Nashville’s top line has built much more than I do that of Dallas. If anything, these two lines will cancel each other out and it will come down to depth players. Despite all of the problems Nashville has faced with depth scoring, I think they’re starting to click at the right time. I like their playoff experience more than Dallas. Catching a theme? Many of the guys who took this team to the Stanley Cup Final just two years ago are still here. It comes down to playoff experience as a whole for these two teams that will be the difference-maker.
It has seven games written all over it due to how closely these two teams resemble each other. They play very similar styles of hockey, and both teams are solid in net. I expect the Stars to do a lot of trapping and clogging up of the neutral zone, making it difficult for the Predators to enter the zone. It might be boring, but it’s effective. The Predators are going to have to counter by using speed and crisp passing. Unfortunately, that can cause turnovers and high-danger scoring opportunities for Dallas.
This series comes down to Rinne further solidifying his legacy. He has the career numbers, the personal accolades and the respect around the league. Now it’s his mission to settle some of his playoff woes. The Predators aren’t going to score much more than two to three goals per game against this Stars team. They’re going to need Rinne to be in Vezina form, and silence the critics out there who want Juuse Saros starting in Game 1. We can’t have a goalie controversy in the middle of a playoff series.
I have the first two games being split in Nashville. Flip a coin on which one is which, but the first two games are going to be tight and physical. Heading back to Dallas, I think the Predators will settle down and play their style of aggressive hockey that will take home ice advantage back. That always pivotal Game 5 back in Nashville will be critical. I like Nashville to really taking over the series in this game and eliminating the Stars back in Dallas. I simply like Nashville’s playoff experience, Rinne in net and Nashville’s depth more than I like Dallas’. However, this will be a fun series and the start to a possible new rivalry.