Nashville Predators: Three Factors to Getting the Upset Over Carolina

Nashville Predators center Luke Kunin (11) Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports
Nashville Predators center Luke Kunin (11) Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports /

Anyone remember what the feeling was going into the first round playoff series for the Nashville Predators against the mammoth Chicago Blackhawks in 2017? I’m sure you remember feelings of “no hope” and “well at least we made it in”.

Those feelings are similar this season heading into the postseason, although under different circumstances. The Predators are up against another top seed in 2021, the Carolina Hurricanes. A team they managed to beat twice, although the last one under much different circumstances than the first.

The Carolina Hurricanes are another team loaded with talent in all areas of the game, and one that the Predators will have to play near perfect against to win the series. We have to hope the Predators use all that extra game film from six regular season losses to know what not to do in the first round.

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This marks the seventh-straight season the Predators have made the playoffs, although I have a hard time counting last season in the bubble as a playoff berth considering the Predators lost in four games in the Stanley Cup Qualifiers, but it was officially a playoff appearance.

Look, upsets happen regularly in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, which is why we can’t get enough of them every year. The Predators are the heavy underdogs, and rightfully so. But they also have Juuse Saros, who is playing on another level in terms of carrying this team into the postseason. Quite literally to be frank.

I’ve got three quicks factors on how the Predators can pull off an upset similar to the one they pulled off in 2017 against Chicago. In my opinion, it would be an even bigger upset.

1. Disciplined play in your own zone

The Predators absolutely cannot make it easier on this Hurricanes team. They’re already gifted enough with their speed to blaze up the ice and quickly counterattack.

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Sloppy play in your own zone will doom the Predators in this series. They have to be smart in their defensive zone exits and use crisp passing to set up in the offensive zone. This will hopefully draw penalties and keep Carolina at least somewhat off balance.

In the huge 3-1 win for the Predators that clinched the fourth playoff spot, the Predators played smart hockey. They didn’t allow anything to come easy for the Hurricanes and made them work for it by only getting 22 shots on Saros.

That’s a winning recipe, but one that will be difficult to repeat. There’s many reasons why the Hurricanes are one of the best teams in the league, and one major one is they make you pay for your mistakes.

Sloppy giveaways in the zone will also likely lead to penalties, and the Predators can’t afford to send Carolina’s No.2 power play in the NHL to the power play too often.

2. Saros will have to stay in Vezina form

I hate to keep beating this drum, but I just don’t see any other way this gets past six games for the Predators if Saros doesn’t remain in top form.

As much as we want to see the team give more goal support to Saros, I’m still of the belief that it’s going to take him stealing a playoff series. To that point, it can definitely happen.

The old adage goes in the playoffs that hot goaltenders can steal not only one playoff series, but carry teams deep despite there maybe being a talent gap on the rest of the roster. That’s the case in this matchup between the Predators and Hurricanes.

Saros has played so well and been so vital to this Predators team that he’s literally getting some consideration for the Hart Trophy. He’ll never get it, but the fact that it’s even being thought of is wild.

The equalizer to this series can absolutely end up being Saros. Don’t tell me he can’t steal this series, because he definitely can. But it’s going to take the Predators executing my first point to near perfection by not being sloppy and putting Saros in bad situations where no goaltender can save them.

Simply put, without Saros I’d be hard-pressed to not call this a sweep. With Saros, I give the Predators a puncher’s chance.

3. The power play comes alive with Forsberg and Tolvanen

We haven’t really seen the power play take off since Filip Forsberg and Eeli Tolvanen returned to the lineup at different times. Now would be a grand time for that to change.

The Predators rank 24th in the NHL on the power play with a success rate of 17.6, which is a slight improvement over last season’s 17.3 percent. Either way, it’s average at best unless Forsberg and Tolvanen reignite their connection.

Look, the Hurricanes are going to get their fair share of power plays in this series. The Predators average just over nine minutes per game in penalty minutes, which is 8th-most in the league. It’s their style they play with, and meanwhile the Hurricanes are ranked 2nd on the power play.

If the Predators are going to neutralize their own penalties, then they have to in return make the Hurricanes pay when they commit penalties. This series will get lopsided real fast if the Predators can’t at least match the success that the Hurricanes could end up having on their power plays.

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If Tolvanen and Forsberg can find that chemistry again on the power play then I can see the Predators mustering up enough goal support for Saros to keep things close. I just don’t see this being a low-scoring series.

The Predators are going to have to find ways to manufacture at least three to four goals per game to keep up, and what better way than with the man advantage. However, this key factor is one I have the hardest time seeing happen.

If these three things happen, then I can see this series going the way of the Predators in six or seven games. If they don’t happen, then I can also see the Hurricanes getting the sweep or making quick work in five games.