Well, it took a little longer than they would have liked but the Nashville Predators are headed to the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
With their most complete game of the post-season thus far, Nashville dominated the Colorado Avalanche, 5-0, at Pepsi Center in Denver to win Game 6 and prevail in their best-of-seven Western Conference Quarterfinal series, 4-2.
The Preds knew who their future opponent would be by the start of the second period on Friday but were unable to hang on for the Game 5 victory. Winnipeg had beaten the Minnesota Wild, 5-0, to set up the series the hockey world has been waiting to see since even before the playoffs started.
It’s highly unfortunate that the two teams who finished with the first and second best records in the League will square off in a second round series as opposed to one of the conference finals or the Stanley Cup Final but, the way the NHL has it’s playoff format set up, this is bound to happen every once in a while.
Nashville won the Presidents’ Trophy by amassing a 53-18-11 record, good for 117 points while Winnipeg posted a 52-20-10 record, good for second in the NHL with 114 (one point more than the Eastern Conference leader Tampa Bay Lightning). If the NHL post-season format called for teams to be re-seeded after the first round (a format used from 1994-2014) or if the NHL used a 1 vs. 16, 2 vs. 15, etc. format (used briefly in 1980 and 1981), this epic series would hold it’s rightful place in a later round but, alas, here we are.
The Jets boast an impressive lineup with two players who logged at least 70 points in the regular season, including Blake Wheeler who posted 91. The Preds, by contrast, didn’t have single player over 65 points but did boast a lineup with such depth that it featured eight players with 40 or more, tied for second most in the NHL. Furthermore, Nashville became the only team in the Presidents’ Trophy era (1986-current) to win the award without a player in the League’s top 25 in scoring.
And they actually did it without one in the League’s top 50.
Filip Forsberg (64 pts) finished tied for 52nd in NHL scoring.
That means #Preds are the 1st Presidents’ Trophy winner in the history of the award (1986-current) to not feature a player in the NHL’s top 25.
The previous lowest was Milan Lucic (23rd) with BOS in 2013-14.
— Jeremy K. Gover (@govertime) April 22, 2018
The two teams attack in different ways. The Jets have a lot of talented forwards who pose a threat any time they’re on the ice but Dustin Byfuglien and Tyler Myers are their only blueliners in their top 10 regular season scorers. The Predators, on the other hand, have talented forwards as well but the opposing goaltender can’t just focus on them. Defensemen PK Subban and Roman Josi finished in Nashville’s top five in scoring, Ekholm finished in their top 10 and, let’s face it, Ryan Ellis would have had he not missed the first half of the season due to injury. In short, their attack comes from everywhere.
Winnipeg’s power play was among the top echelon as well, clicking at a 23.4 percent rate, fifth-best in the NHL. Nashville was more middle-of-the-pack, finishing tied with non-playoff teams Montreal and New York (Rangers) with a 21.2 percent success rate.
As far as the penalty kill goes, the two clubs finished the regular season closer than you might think. While Nashville did take the most penalties in the League (299) and will need to stay out of the box as to not give the potent Jets an excuse to generate even more offense than they would otherwise, Winnipeg wasn’t exactly saintly either. They finished with the fourth-most trips to the penalty box (274) and registered the seventh-best penalty kill (81.8) compared to Nashville’s sixth-best number (81.9).
Those are regular season figures, however. In the playoffs, Nashville has the fourth-best penalty kill (90.0) while Winnipeg is around the bottom of the 16-team qualifying field (76.9). This bodes will for the Predators if they can mount sustained pressure in the Jets’ zone while on the man advantage.
On the other hand, like they did in Game 6 versus Colorado, Nashville will have to stay out of the box. Winnipeg turned in a 23.1 percent clip against the Minnesota Wild in the first round while the Predators were successful against the Avalanche just 18.8 percent of the time.
In a season series featuring two Vezina Trophy finalists in Pekka Rinne and Connor Hellebuyck, one would assume the games were low scoring. Wrong. They were actually track meets. In the five games the two teams played against each other, there was loads of scoring with the results of Nashville winning three, losing one in regulation and then another in a shootout. The Preds edged the Jets in scoring 22-20 in those five games but allowed at least 33 shots on goal in each outing (including 47 shots in the last of the five meetings).
Regardless of the statistics, this is the series the hockey world has been waiting for and it’s finally here. The schedule, when announced, will be added below.
I think somebody on TSN said it best back on February 27.
Somebody on TSN just described Jets-Predators as a “high-tempo chess match with sledgehammers.”
Which is awesome.
— Nick Cotsonika (@cotsonika) February 28, 2018
Let the fun begin.