Sunday, April 22, 2012

Predators/Red Wings Series Recap

The Nashville Predators eliminated the Detroit Red Wings in their first round match up in five games. The Predators now await the outcome of the other first round series to finish to determine their second round opponent.

Looking back over the series, there were several critical factors that led the Predators to victory. Here are some of the keys to the Predators victory over the Wings:

You Can't Shoot the Puck Through a Wall

Any discussion of the Predators success starts with this guy:


Pekka Rinne was a beast in net, finishing with a .944 save % and a 1.81 GAA. The Wings potent offense was stymied by Rinne as he allowed only 4 even strength goals in the five games. It didn't matter how many shots the Wings fired at Rinne. He was calm and moved well in his crease, tracking shots and not giving up rebounds. His strong play got into the heads of the Wings, and as games went on, it seemed as if they knew they weren't going to get a puck past him. The psychological edge that Rinne gave the Predators was essential to the confidence of the team, and their play in front of him was, for the most, solid. GM David Poile, initially garnered some criticism for the 7 year, $7 million dollar contract that he gave to Rinne early in the season. Who is laughing now?

You Win Championships With Defense

The Red Wings looked at the Predators defense and saw something that looked like this:

The play of the defense was outstanding in this series. There is no doubt that the Wings have offensive weapons, but the defense of the Predators did a fantastic job of limiting their scoring chances and rendered them ineffective for stretches. How good were they? Consider that Jiri Hudler tied with Henrik Zetterberg for the goals lead for the Wings, and they both had 2 goals. Pavel Datsyuk, Cory Emmerton, Tomas Holmstrom, Johan Franzen, and Ian White all had one goal. The defense starts with Shea Weber and Ryan Suter, and their play was stellar in shutting down the big guns of the Wings. Kevin Klein, Francis Buoillon, and Roman Josi were solid, and Ryan Ellis was a positive contributor. And remember, the Predators were without Hal Gill in this series, as he was out due to injury. The effort of the blue liners frustrated the Wings offensively and changed the tenor of this series from the outset.

Unsung Heroes

In every playoff series, there is a player or players that rise to the occasion. Not the usual suspects, but someone that unexpectedly elevates their game and swings a series in the favor of their team. There were two Predators that filled this role:


Gabriel Bourque lead the team in goals with 3 and finished tied for second on the team with points with 4. The young rookie definitely elevated his game and did not look intimidated by the pressure of the playoffs. His poise, speed, and willingness to go to the tough areas were rewarded with a move up to the second line in the fifth game. Bourque keeps his game simple, works hard, and was rewarded for his efforts.

The other player that excelled on the big stage was this guy:

Kevin Klein was excellent in the defensive zone, finishing +2, and had 2 goals and an assist. His first goal of the series was a highlight reel goal and swung momentum back to the Predators in a pivotal game 3 at the Joe. Klein chewed up some big minutes with Hal Gill out of the line up and did a good job shutting down some of the Wings top forwards. Must be the hair.

Home Wasn't So Sweet

The Predators had never won a playoff game at the Joe Louis Arena, and after the Wings eked out a 3-2 win in the second game at Bridgestone Arena, the hope among Predator fans was for the team to go to Detroit and just win one game. There is no doubt that the Wings are tough at home, and earlier this season had set a record for consecutive home wins. It was going to be a monumental task for the Predators. Here is a visual of what happened:

The Predators dropped the house on the Wings at the Joe, claiming a 3-2 and a 3-1 win in games 3 and 4. The jinx of the Joe had been broken, and the Predators returned to Nashville with confidence, prepared to keep their house from falling on them. The Bridgestone Arena didn't fall in on them in game 5, although the roof was nearly blown off by the cheering of the home crowd.

The Predators Got Over This

In the playoffs, the Detroit Red Wings represented this to the Predators:

In their two previous meetings in the playoffs, the Wings sent the Predators packing in the first round. Beating the Wings was obviously essential to move on in the playoffs, but for the Predators the defeat of the Wings in a playoff series represents leaping over a psychological hurdle. Knowing they can beat the Wings when it counts bolsters the confidence of the Predators not only for the remainder of the playoffs but in future Central Division battles.

These Guys

A lot of credit belongs to these guys:

The passion and the energy that was brought at every home game was amazing. The spontaneous standing ovations during the television timeouts, especially in game 5, were deafening. And don't think for a moment that the Predators don't feed off that energy and that the visitors don't notice. I could see Wings Coach Mike Babcock screaming at his players just to make himself heard. Those passionate Predators fans make the Bridge one of the toughest places to play in the NHL.

There are other factors that were critical to the Predators capturing this series. The play of Alexander Radulov (5 points in 5 games) changed the balance of the contest. Contributions from Paul Gaustad in the face off dot, Mike Fisher and Marty Erat with solid defense and timely assists, and Sergei Kostitsyn with the game winning goal in game 3 stand out. The fact remains that this was a team win.

That first round series was fun, wasn't it? Now it is on to the second round, and new challenges await. The Predators will have another milestone to achieve, and that is to win a second round series.

It will take all these attributes as well as contributions from everyone that puts on the sweater to achieve that goal.

I can't wait.

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