For the first time in franchise history, the Nashville Predators will begin play in the 2nd round of the playoffs on Thursday night at 8:00 p.m. central time. Nashville will take on the Vancouver Canucks at Rogers Arena in Vancouver on VERSUS to start off the Western Conference Semi Finals.
The Preds and Canucks met twice during the regular season, with each team winning two games. The Canucks are coming off of a 7 game series with the Chicago Blackhawks. Vancouver had the defending champions on the ropes with a 3-0 series lead, but was unable to close them out. The Blackhawks came back and tied the series at three games apiece. However, the Canucks were able to pull off the dramatic overtime victory in the Game 7.
Having not played since Sunday night, the Predators are going to be the more rested team. While I think this might give them the advantage for Game 1, I don't expect it to be a huge factor for the series. These guys are professional athletes and they know how to take care of their bodies and stay rested.
Nashville has already faced one superstar scoring line so far in this year's playoffs. They'll have to face another one in this series. The Sedin twins, along with Mikael Samuelsson, form another formidable line that Shea Weber and Ryan Suter will have to battle. However, that's not going to be the key. The key to this series is going to be how the Predators defend the Ryan Kesler line.
In round one, Teemu Selanne was a force to be reckoned with against the Preds. The Ageless One scored six goals in the six game series, and he played on the 2nd line for Anaheim. Kesler is the center piece of the Vancouver 2nd line that is equally as formidable. Kevin Klein and Jonathon Blum are going to have to play shut-down defense against that line.
As far as forward match-ups go, you'd have to figure that Mike Fisher will be out there win the Kesler line is out there, and David Legwand should be out there while the Sedin twins are out there. That means the 3rd and 4th lines of the Preds are going to have to continue contributing offensively.
Jordin Tootoo had a great series against Anaheim. Tootoo, Nick Spaling, and Jerred Smithson are going to be key to the Predators goal-scoring success this series. Yes, you heard me right. If that line can keep playing the way they have been, it's going to make life rough on the Canucks.
Vancouver has the added luxury of having Dan Hamhuis. No, not for his play. That works to Nashville's advantage. However, Hamhuis does know some of the tendencies that some of his former teammates may exhibit. Having said that, the Predators have the added advantage of having Shane O'Brien. O'Brien will have knowledge of his own about his former teammates.
Expect the Predators to come out flying in Game 1. They are well rested and, in my opinion, Vancouver seems to be overlooking them at the present moment due to them finally beating the Blackhawks in a playoff series. Honestly, I expect the Predators to win Game 1 pretty handily. That makes for an exciting Game 2!