The playoffs begin tonight, for those of us in Detroit, when the Red Wings take on the Predators, 7:00 pm at the Joe. Nearly every source I've found has all but written Nashville off - in fact I think every prediction I've seen has Detroit winning the game in either five or six. Christy Hammond has compiled a pretty comprehensive list of just about everyone's thoughts on the matter and it's unanimous. Does that scare anyone? I admit, going into this matchup I don't feel anxious at all - but that isn't to say it's going to be a total cakewalk, either.
Maybe it's just because I'm not a Nashville fan (although I think the amount of times we Wings fans see them per season gives us a little bit of clout in making statements like this), but names like Jason Arnott and Alexander Radulov (though he has been quite obnoxious against us this season) don't quite strike fear in the hearts of opponents the way the potent combination of Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk do. Nick Lidstrom and his collection of Norris Trophies are second in the league with +40 while Nashville's leading defenseman in points, Marek Zidlicky is approximately -7,000 (okay, okay, -5, but his presence on my fantasy team all season long has me convinced otherwise).
Keys to Winning:
There's a lot of discussion about goaltending, and for good cause. Dan Ellis is expected to star for Nashville and he has the potential to steal games for the Predators, it's true. He also has only 45 NHL games worth of experience, none of which have come in the playoffs, and he's shown that he can be shaky - he's been pulled several times in favor of Chris Mason and vice versa. Despite the fact that he's had a remarkable shut out streak and been a nice surprise for the Predators for most of the season, he still hasn't really shown enough to solidify his spot as the starter. The Wings need to get to him often and early to rattle his confidence. It's worked before, and it can work again. As for the Wings, they'll be going with Dominik Hasek who's had his own share of shakiness this season. As Kukla says, the Wings need him "insane, active and abrasive. Steady would be good, outstanding would be better and spectacular sets the stage for a long run." If Dom plays the way he did last year and the defense continues to play the way they have been in front of him, even a hot Dan Ellis shouldn't pose a substantial threat. Both teams have capable backups in Chris Mason and Chris Osgood, however, so if either starter falters, expect to see a switch made in attempt to save the series. Between them, Mason and Ellis have 5 games of post season experience. Osgood and Hasek have 202.
The Wings' powerplay has been a huge part of their success this season and it needs to stay that way. Nashville has the third best pk in the league, and the Wings need to render that statistic worthless. The combination of the Eurotwins in combination with Brian Rafalski and Nick Lidstrom on defense is positively lethal. Add Tomas Holmstrom and the hot Johan Franzen to that, and what will hopefully be plenty of scoring opportunities from the second group of Jiri Hudler and Valtteri Filppula and the Wings should be able to crack the Predator's pk for certain. Both on the pp and off it, if the Wings play the aggressive puck-possession style game Babcock has had them running with all season against the Predators, they shouldn't have a problem, as long as they get secondary scoring and don't rely too heavily on the big guns. The team simply has too much all around talent and firepower to be stymied by Nashville's high-ranked pk and strong forechecking.
Nashville has a strong physical presence, and players like Jordin Tootoo and Shea Weber will certainly be making their presence known. Fortunately, the Wings faced three tough teams last year in Calgary, San Jose, and Anaheim, and seem to have learned how to adapt to playing against this sort of adversity. Added to that, the Wings did bulk up a bit for this season, picking up Dallas Drake, Aaron Downey and Brad Stuart, getting more out of Dan Cleary and Johan Franzen, and even reacquiring Darren McCarty, whose playing time may be limited but who will hopefully only help. Hopefully the Wings can initiate the hitting and goad the sometimes undisciplined seeming Predators into taking penalties, whereupon our pp can do its damage.
Injuries have taken their toll on both teams, but the Wings especially felt the damage through the month of February (which six of their regulars were out simultaneously) and are just beginning to really recoup their losses. Both Tomas Holmstrom (groin) and Brad Stuart (broken finger) are slated to be back tonight, as is, supposedly, Mikael Samuelsson (groin), but the Wings are still missing experienced grinder Kirk Maltby (hamstring) and have lost Tomas Kopecky, who had been playing strong lately, to a season-ending torn ACL and sprained MCL. Nashville has lost both Martin Gelinas and Jed Ortmeyer for the season (both with knee injuries) and David Legwand (foot) who is day to day and is doubtful for the opening game tonight. Needless to say, the Wings need to stay healthy to make a long run this season.
The playoff schedule, as updated as I've seen, is as follows:
Game 1 — Thursday April 10 at Detroit, 7 p.m., FSN, VersusI had tickets to go to Game 2, but NBC decided to air the game last minute and changed its start time from 7 pm to 2 pm - I have to work a 1 pm baseball game in Kalamazoo that I can't get out of, so I'm out a substantial amount of money and likely won't catch a game until the semi-finals, thanks NBC. I also have class tonight and won't get to see Game 1 until I get home, so I for one am not thrilled with the scheduling!
Game 2 — Saturday April 12 at Detroit, 2 p.m., NBC
Game 3 — Monday April 14 at Nashville, 7:30, FSN, Versus
Game 4 — April 16 at Nashville, 9 p.m., FSN, Versus, CBC
x-Game 5 — April 18 at Detroit, 7:30, FSN, Versus, CBC
x-Game 6 — April 20 at Nashville, 3 p.m., NBC, CBC
x-Game 7 — April 22 at Detroit, TBD, FSN, TBD
Overall, the number of games I'm predicting it'll take the Wings is five. The number of times I expect to be entertained by Radek Bonk's name is infinite. GO WINGS!