Why the Nashville Predators Will Be a Difficult Out in Playoffs, If they Make It

The Predators have smashed early expectations in the Andrew Brunette era thanks to quickly identifying and sticking with their top line led by Filip Forsberg.
Ottawa Senators v Nashville Predators
Ottawa Senators v Nashville Predators / Donald Page/GettyImages

With still 15 regular season games remaining and more work to be done, the Nashville Predators have taken on that role of a wildcard team no one will want to face in the first round. We see first round upsets constantly in the Stanley Cup Playoffs in a league that is known for its parity.

In the 2023 offseason when the Nashville Predators made changes both at the Head Coach level and General Manager level, it was thought that it would be a work-in-progress in the first year. Aside from a few optimists, most figured the Predators would miss the postseason for a second straight year.

Now while the Predators still have some work left to do before qualifying for the 2024 Stanley Cup Playoffs (92% chance to make it per MoneyPuck), this team has been consistently showing over the last month that they can play meaningful hockey games against top tier teams, those three early season losses to the Canucks the exception and luckily won't have to face the top Eastern Conference teams unless they go on another magical run to the Stanley Cup Final like in 2017.

Preds Head to Head Record Against NHL's Top 10 Teams in Standings


Head-to-Head Record

1. Panthers


2. Bruins


3. Canucks


4. Rangers


5. Jets


6. Avalanche


7. Stars


8. Hurricanes


9. Maple Leafs


10. Oilers


The potential of the Predators facing off with the Canucks in the first round is definitely concerning, but it's also fair to say that the Predators have improved overall as a team greatly since the last meeting on December 19.

Predators Have Performed Well Against Division Opponents

Six wins combined over the top three teams in the Central Division isn't something to just brush off to the side, either. One major factor into why the Predators are in this position is due to finding a top forward line that is consistent and very efficient.

There was never a question that after Ryan O'Reilly was added in 2023 offseason free agency that he would be put alongside franchise great Filip Forsberg, but it was unclear who would get that third spot .

Initially it was Juuso Parssinen, but not long after that the Predators went with a veteran-led top line by slotting in Gustav Nyquist. They haven't steered away from that line combination since then. And *knock on wood*, all three players have played in all 67 games to this point without missing time due to injury. Very significant, and fortunate.

When assessing the chances for the Predators to end their first round playoff drought which dates back to 2018 when they survived a valiant effort from the young Colorado Avalanche at the time, you have to first give them a puncher's chance against anyone thanks to their top line.

Pretty much every playoff team has a top line they can feast off of in the playoffs, and the Predators should be no different. If this line was up for debate or didn't have this kind of longevity of playing together up to this point, it would be a large concern. Fortunately the Predators can cross that off thanks to the O'Reilly line.

O'Reilly Top Line is Among the Best in the NHL in Total Productivity

Nashville Predators, Ryan O'Reilly
Mar 5, 2024; Nashville, Tennessee, USA; Nashville Predators center Ryan O'Reilly (90) talks with / Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

The Forsberg/O'Reilly/Nyquist combination has the 2nd-highest Expected Goals For in the NHL among forward lines, only trailing the New York Rangers' top line of Artemi Panarin, Vincent Trocheck and Alexis Lafrenière.

If you look at minutes played together, Nashville's top line (614.5 minutes time on ice) also only trails the Rangers' top line (670.2 minutes time on ice) in this category.

Where there's a drop off for the O'Reilly top line is efficiency per 60 minutes. To join the most elite top lines you'll be going up against, Nashville's top line needs to increase their Expected Goals Per 60 Minutes. They drop down to 56th among qualifying forward lines and even trail Nashville's incredibly important 4th line combination of Kiefer Sherwood, Michael McCarron and Cole Smith.

So while the Predators do have a top line they can trust in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, they're still not quite at the elite level of some of the other top lines in the Western Conference playoff race in terms of offensive efficiency. What they gain is chemistry and veteran leadership from being together for such a large majority of the season.

The last time the Predators were in the playoffs in 2022, they got swept by the Avalanche and got very little scoring punch up top to show for it in the four games. Forsberg managed just one goal, Mikael Granlund didn't score a single goal, while 66% of the goal scoring came from Yakov Trenin and Matt Duchene.

You Can't Overlook Nashville's Depth for the Playoffs

Now it doesn't stop with the O'Reilly top line being reliable for a seven-game playoff series. What gives Nashville even more playoff viability, much better than their last two playoff appearances, is they have three forward lines behind the top line that have also built a lot of chemistry.

Brunette hasn't messed with much in terms of starting line combinations when he's not forced to. Obviously he had to shake some things up with Jason Zucker and Anthony Beauvillier being added at the trade deadline, but overall Brunette has avoided blending up the lines without reason. That should bode well for the playoffs with four lines having strong chemistry from playing so much together as a unit.

As previously mentioned, the fourth line with Sherwood, McCarron and Smith can't be overstated enough for how vital they've been as well to Nashville's success.


The Stanley Cup Playoffs are a war of attrition, and you can't underestimate having a heavy hitting and physical fourth line like Nashville has. They have played almost 130 minutes together and should be kept intact for the duration of the regular season and into the playoffs.

Furthermore, this fourth line combination has been solid on the defensive end as well, ranking 13th among qualifying forward lines in defensive efficiency allowing just 1.76 Expected Goals Against Per 60 Minutes.

Oh, and let's also not gloss over the fact that the Predators are 2nd in the NHL in hits, only trailing the league-leading Florida Panthers, and have the NHL's leading hit dealer Jeremy Lauzon who just set a franchise record as well.

You have to win the physicality battle in the postseason as well. The Predators should have no problem with that task in a seven-game series.

The Predators have to finish the deal. Although the odds are overwhelmingly in their favor to make the playoffs in 2024, they have to continue playing with that sense of desperation and fortitude they've been playing with since that 9-2 drubbing to the Dallas Stars which sprung this 13-game point streak.

It would be an all-time epic and embarrassing collapse, especially after adding pieces at the trade deadline, if the Predators were to miss the playoffs. Assuming they avoid that fate, I actually give the Predators a moderate chance to advance past the first round, depending on the matchup. MoneyPuck gives them around a 30 percent chance.

Next. Preds. Reviewing the 2024 Trade Deadline a Week Later for Preds. dark

Maybe I'm just a prisoner of the moment, but I love where this team is at with their all-around game and a lot of that credit goes to Brunette and Trotz for constructing a lineup that's deep and multi-pronged. I don't see one line that is just an utter liability in a seven-game playoff series.

The "best" team on paper doesn't always win in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Sometimes it's the team that plays the right way and is hot at the right time.