Little separated these two teams this year. In fact the two teams only finished two points apart with the Predators (48-26-8) finishing 4th in the Western Conference with 104 points to the Red Wings (48-28-6) 102 points. Even in the head-to-head series between the two teams was even with the Central Division rivals splitting the six games that they played with one another, as each team went 2-1 on home ice. Although, Detroit outscored the Predators 17-13 in the series, the Predators did win the final two games between the two teams.
Predators goaltender Pekka Rinne is a Vezina Trophy finalist this year, leading the league with 43 wins this season. Rinne was solid and posted a 2.39 goals-against average and .923 save percentage. Down the stretch the Predators made sure to rest Rinne so he would be ready for the playoffs.
Jimmy Howard has had an outstanding season but has battled injury problems. Prior to fracturing the index finger on his right [blocker side] hand, Howard played in his first NHL All-Star Game and was on pace at one point to break Martin Brodeur’s NHL record for wins in season.
However Howard was dealt with a nagging groin injury shortly after returning from the broken finger. Howard won 35 games this season with a 2.13 goals-against average and a .920 save percentage
Shea Weber, is a finalist for the Norris Trophy this, is having a great year and is tied for the League lead in goals by a defenseman with 19. Weber and Ryan Suter were both All-Stars and form possibly the League’s best tandem.
Weber and Suter should play at least half of the game. Both players were in the top five in the NHL in time on ice per game. The Predators also added 6’7″ Hal Gill who brings veteran experience and is a penalty killing and shot blocking expert.
The Red Wings are led by veteran Nicklas Lidstrom. However, Lidstrom is playing injured with a deep bruise on his ankle bone. His skating has been limited so it’s unsure how effective he will be. Niklas Kronwall (15 goals) had one of his better season’s and as a group the Red Wings defence had 49 goals and 181 points.
At the trade deadline the Predators added center Paul Gaustad, a penalty-killing specialist, and scoring winger Andrei Kostitsyn from the Montreal Canadiens. Then, scoring winger Alexander Radulov, returned after four seasons of playing in his native Russia in the Kontinental Hockey League. In his nine regular-season games, Radulov had three goals and four assists plus a shootout winner. Radulov and Kostitsyn, have some chemistry playing on a line centered by David Legwand, who reached the 50-point mark for the second time in his career.
Nashville’s top line is a two-way threat, centered by Mike Fisher, who hit the 20-goal mark for the fifth time. Fisher’s wings are Sergei Kostitsyn (second straight 40-point season) on the left and Martin Erat, Nashville’s leader in points.
The Red Wings top six seems to be in form heading into the playoffs. Henrik Zetterberg centering the top line between Valtteri Filppula and Jiri Hudler and Pavel Datsyuk is in the middle of Todd Bertuzzi and Johan Franzen. Detroit finished 7th in league scoring averaging just under 3 goals a game, slightly ahead of Nashville who finished 8th. Hudler finished this year with a career-best 25 goals, as well as 50 points a season.
This is an interesting series. The two teams not only finished within 2 points of one another, but they split the 6 games that they played. Statistically, the Red Wings were a little better finished 7th in goals for and 7th in goals against compared to Nashville who were 8th and 10th respectively. The big key in this series maybe how well the Predators play at home. The Red Wings were a league best 31-7-3 at home including a record 23 game home winning streak. But the Red Wings were only 17-21-3 on the road where they were vulnerable. This series may come down to how well Nashville plays at home. If the Red Wings can steal one in Nashville then the Predators may be in trouble.
However, the Predators have tooled for the playoffs and the recent trades and the addition of Radulov have made Nashville a much improved team over the last 20 games.