Thursday, March 29, 2012

Preds rivalry with Red Wings just getting started

Since the beginning of the 1998-99 season, the Nashville Predators have always been chasing the Detroit Red Wings. In fact, the Predators have never finished ahead of the Red Wings in the Central Division standings since coming into the NHL.

Detroit has always been Nashville's biggest rival, both on the ice and from a Nashville fan's perspective. However, the rivalry with the Predators just hasn't been that big of a deal from a Detroit perspective in years past.

"The Wings have always been the measuring stick for the Nashville franchise since the beginning. Since Detroit won the Cup the previous year, they were the team to beat. The fact that there were so many Detroit natives in town made those games that much more important," said Phillip Reid, a Predators fan since 1998.

With the strong likelihood of another first round matchup between Detroit and Nashville in the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs, the rivalry is about to be taken to a new level. Given the intensity of the games between these two teams in years past, that is good news for the NHL.

Some of the most memorable games in Predators' history have come against the Red Wings. In 2004, the Predators squared off with the Red Wings in their first ever trip to the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Nashville got their first playoff win in franchise history against the Red Wings on April 11, 2004. Detroit won the President's Trophy that year for finishing the regular season with the most points in the NHL, but Nashville was able to take them to six games in the Western Conference Quarterfinals.

In the 2006-07 season, the Predators were able to get a dramatic overtime victory over the Red Wings at Bridgestone Arena on February 24, 2007. Detroit held a 3-2 lead with less than two minutes remaining in regulation, but Paul Kariya would tie the game at three for the Predators at 18:56 of the third period to send the game to overtime. That overtime period produced Peter Forsberg's magical moment with the Predators. Kariya made a gorgeous backhand pass to Forsberg, who was able to tap in the game-winning goal that sent Bridgestone Arena into a frenzy.

The two teams would meet again in the 2008 Stanley Cup Playoffs. It was a year of turmoil for the Predators. In the summer of 2007, the future of the franchise in Nashville was uncertain. Attendance wasn't strong, and several key figures of the team that had made Nashville successful in the 2006-07 season were gone. However, the Predators were still able to claw their way into postseason play. Nashville forced a six-game series once again, but the Red Wings were just too much. Detroit won the series and ultimately won the Stanley Cup that same season.

If these two teams meet again this year in the playoffs, as most expect they will, it will be the third time that Nashville will have faced Detroit in the first round of the playoffs. If Nashville is able to win that series, this rivalry will take off.

The one thing that has always been missing in this rivalry is Nashville finishing ahead of Detroit in the regular season or knocking them out of the playoffs. This year, the Predators have a chance to do both.

"The Predators are now a viable threat to the Wings' throne. The Preds now have a solid team, serious scoring lines and stronger defense and goaltending than Detroit has. The fact that the Preds have been on the precipice for so many years and are now a serious contender will make this rivalry that much better. This rivalry is maturing," Reid said.

Friday night's game in the Motor City carries massive importance. Home ice advantage is going to be crucial if these two teams end up playing each other in the first round of the playoffs. However, games between Nashville and Detroit are always intense, regardless of the venue. Buckle up, Preds fans. These next few weeks are going to be a fun ride.

(Photo Credit: Leanne Charles)