Nashville Predators First Round Opponent Still Not Set: Canucks or Stars?

It has come down to either the Canucks or the Stars on who the Predators will face in the first round of the 2024 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Oct 31, 2023; Vancouver, British Columbia, CAN; Vancouver Canucks goalie Thatcher Demko (35) makes a
Oct 31, 2023; Vancouver, British Columbia, CAN; Vancouver Canucks goalie Thatcher Demko (35) makes a / Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports

Two very different potential first round opponents for the Nashville Predators are still in play going into the final two days of the 2023-24 NHL regular season.

The much higher probability is the Predators will face the Vancouver Canucks in the first round, but there is still an outside chance that it could be the Dallas Stars who have already clinched the Central Division title.

There is a scenario in play that if the Canucks win their season finale on Thursday against the Jets, and the Stars lose in regulation to the Blues on Wednesday, then we will get Predators and Stars in the first round.

Preds Will Either Face Canucks or Stars in 1st Round

Games are very unpredictable at this time of year because some teams will rest guys, and flat out don't have anything to gain in their last game of the regular season. The Jets are locked into home-ice advantage against the Avalanche in their first round series, so it should make for an easier game for the Canucks to win.

The Stars will be expected to handle their business against the eliminated Blues. Home-ice advantage throughout the Western Conference is worth getting up for if you're the Stars, and all they need is a point.

Thursday will mean nothing for the Canucks if the Stars manage to get at least a point on Wednesday against the Blues. So who should we be rooting for to play against in the first round as Predators fans?

The overwhelming answer you'll probably get, and I agree with, is the Canucks. Let's address them first, and then we'll move on to the Stars. One thing you have to remember first is that regular season head to head results should be taken with a grain of salt, especially in the case of Predators and Canucks.

Yes, the Canucks swept the season series from the Predators in three games. The combined scoring margin was 13-6 for the Canucks, but that doesn't quite tell the whole story. For starters, these two teams have faced each other since December 19, and I think it's fair to say that the Predators have gone through a dramatic transformation in a positive direction since then.


The first two meetings were played in October, so come on now. In the first game the Predators had Samuel Fagemo in the starting lineup, along with Tyson Barrie and since traded Yakov Trenin. Juuso Parssinen, who has long been out of the starting lineup and back with the Milwaukee Admirals, also started in this game. The Predators lost 3-2.

The second meeting was just a week later, and against you had Fagemo and Liam Foudy in the Predators starting lineup, along with Barrie and Parssinen. And no Luke Schenn who started off the season on the shelf with an injury suffered in the season opener.

Since the Predators last played the Canucks they've turned into a completely different team. They added Jason Zucker and Anthony Beauvillier at the trade deadline, and there's no denying that the chemistry this team is playing with is worlds apart different from the last time the Canucks saw this team.

The Canucks have also appeared to have hit a plateau over the last month or two. Not to say they've been horrible, but just kind of good enough to maintain their chances for top spot in the West because they built such a cushion for themselves in the first half of the season.

The Stars Would be a Nightmare 1st Round Draw for Predators

Shifting over to the Stars, they're playing their best hockey of the season right now and that's saying a lot because they've been pretty darn consistent all year. They're deep, and they know the Predators very well.

Maybe that favors the Predators facing a better known division opponent, but I have my doubts even though the season series was split 2-2, and Nashville had a choke job in the final 60 seconds in one of those two losses. But the last meeting was the 9-2 drubbing that afterwards led to the 18-game point streak for Nashville.

The Stars are just the more well-rounded and dangerous team over the Canucks. There are easier areas to exploit the Canucks over the Stars. Main area being depth. The Predators can go toe-to-toe with the Canucks lines one through four, while the Stars arguably have the best depth among all playoff teams from top to bottom.

Furthermore, the Stars scare me way more in the special teams department. Both the Stars and Canucks have top-10 power plays, but the Stars are also elite on the penalty kill while the Canucks are in the bottom half. So I give the Predators power play a much better chance to cash in over the Canucks than I do against the Stars.

Finally, the Stars have more trusted playoff caliber players than the Canucks. Aside from Elias Pettersson, Quinn Hughes, J.T. Miller and Brock Boeser, the Canucks have some trust issues from me. Also, how rusty will Thatcher Demko be in the first round?

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I trust Dallas' top part of their lineup, and their depth, much more than that of Vancouver's. You just see Joe Pavelski, Jamie Been, Tyler Seguin, Jason Robertson and Miro Heiskanen who have been entrenched in the playoff window being wide open for the Stars for a while. They realize it's Stanley Cup or bust for this team in 2024.

Now before everyone thinks I'm being completely disrespectful to the Canucks, let me just say that a Predators-Canucks seven game series has seven written all over it, and maybe six one way or the other if a certain goalie on either side gets ridiculously hot. I wouldn't put it past Saros or Demko to do that for their respective clubs.

Whereas with Jake Oettinger for the Stars is probably their main weakness that might give you pause as a first round upset. He went 1-1-0 with a .897 save percentage against Nashville this season, while Demko went 2-0-0 with a .917 save percentage. So in this debate, that's the best argument you can make to side with the Canucks as the tougher opponent for the Predators.

Even so, I look at a possible Predators-Stars seven game series and I'd be hard-pressed to predict anything more than a six game series favoring the Stars. I just don't know if the Predators have the overall talent to overcome a loaded Stars team.

If we're talking upset chances for the first round for the Predators, I'm going Canucks as the better draw and I really don't have to think too hard on it.