Monday, April 9, 2012

Nashville's time is now

On Wednesday night, the Nashville Predators will square off with the Detroit Red Wings in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the third time in the history of their franchise. In the two previous postseason meetings between these two respective clubs, the Red Wings have come out on top in six games. Detroit was the number one seed in the Western Conference in each of those two series and held home ice advantage over the Predators. This time around, however, the Predators are the higher seed. And they appear to be more primed to dethrone the Red Wings than ever before.

For years, the Predators have been criticized for not having that player who can be a game-changer offensively. Detroit has always had that sort of player since the Predators have been around. Their biggest offensive name is Pavel Datsyuk, who is arguably the most fun player to watch in the entire NHL. He's a player that can truly win a game for the Red Wings. Over the past few years, the Predators haven't had that type of player. They do now.

Alexander Radulov returned to Nashville from the KHL and posted seven points in nine games. With the talent and skill set that Radulov possesses, Nashville now has a player that can truly change a game. Radulov seems to relish big-time situations like the playoffs and always wants the puck on his stick when the game is on the line. That's an added element to a Predators team that is perhaps as deep as they ever have been before.

Nashville got bigger at the trading deadline by adding veteran defenseman Hal Gill and forward Paul Gaustad. That added size, plus the depth that the Predators have, will make it easier for them to wear down a Detroit team that has struggled with injuries all season long.

Both teams won three games against each other in the regular season, including a one win by each team on the road. Overall, the Red Wings struggled on the road during the regular season, posting a 17-21-3 record. Nashville, however, posted a 22-16-3 record on the road. The Predators have the home ice advantage, which could end up being the difference in the series.

In many ways, the long-term future of the Predators' franchise depends on this postseason run. A deep run in the playoffs would go a long way toward convincing Shea Weber and Ryan Suter to sign a long-term contract with the Predators. However, an early exit in the first round could be extremely detrimental in the contract situations of Weber and Suter.

Now is the time for the Predators. For the first time ever, they have finished ahead of Detroit in the regular season standings. They have a complete team that is capable of winning a hockey game in several different ways. Most of all, they expect to win. Nashville is no longer satisfied with just making the playoffs. The only satisfaction they will have is if they are hoisting the Stanley Cup in June. That confidence can go a long way in the playoffs.

Series Prediction:

This series is going seven games. It will be a battle between two teams who are fairly equal, and it will provide casual hockey fans with great entertainment. In the end, however, the Predators will simply be the more complete team than Detriot. Nashville wins the series in seven games.

Photo Credit: Leanne Charles)

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