This series is now in the books and the Predators managed to oust the Detroit Red Wings, in five games and advance to the second round of the playoffs for the second time in franchise history. Most pundits and bloggers were split on their prediction on who would win this series but one thing they agreed on was that it would be a long series. That obviously wasn't the case as the Preds made quick work of their Central Division foes and became the first team to advance this post-season.
For my prediction, I had the Wings advancing in six games based on the fact that the Wings have been one of the best possession teams at even strength during the regular season while the Preds have been one of the worst. In addition to that, the Preds were relying on a hot powerplay and elite goaltending to get them to a playoff spot and I figured both of those wouldn't be enough to match against the Wings.
The part about the Wings being a superior team at even strength reigned true throughout this series, but the Preds absolutely dominated the goaltending matchup, which is part of the reason why they are in the second round and Detroit is golfing. After the jump, we'll take a closer look at what went right for Nashville and what went wrong for Detroit.
Scoring Chances by Period
Detroit had a pretty big advantage when it came to even strength play and were producing more scoring chances on the powerplay than they were giving up on the penalty kill. The refs called almost everything in the first four games, so both teams had the opportunity to let their special teams units dictate the game but neither could score with the man advantage. The Preds powerplay might have been red hot for most of the season but they scored only twice in this series while Detroit had only four powerplay goals.
With both teams being unable to score at 5-on-4, it meant that even strength play would decide this series, a matchup which favors the Red Wings on paper but that's not how it worked out this series. Elite goaltending can carry a team through the playoffs and that was the case for Nashville for most of this series. Pekka Rinne posted a save percentage of .944 and was phenomenal in both games 3 & 4. At the other end, Jimmy Howard wasn't up to task. He got unlucky with of the goals he allowed but at the end of the day, a .888 save percentage isn't going to cut it when you're facing a team with an elite goalie.
One thing to take note of in the table above is how the Preds seemed to come out of the gate strong as they were able to at least match the Wings at even strength during the first period. Score effects could possibly play a role in this because the Preds were playing with a lead for a good part of games 1, 3, & 5 so it's possible that the Wings generated most of their chances while trying to play catch-up. That definitely wasn't the case for game 4, though.
What sealed the Wings fate was their performance in game 5, where the Preds just steamrolled them on the scoreboard and in scoring chances. That's not the way to play when you have a series on the line.
Individual Scoring Chances
The Hudler-Zetterberg-Filppula line was controlling most of the scoring chances for the Red Wings, and having one line do most of the work at even strength isn't going to get you too far. Pavel Datsyuk and Johan Franzen were also producing a good amount of chances, but they were giving a lot back in the other end, as well. Datsyuk might have been one of Detroit's top performers on the powerplay but he could have done a lot more at even strength, especially in his own end.
Ian White played very well this series and was one of the most underrated signings of the off-season. He contributed in all areas, played a considerable amount of time against Nashville's top line and managed to beat them out by a wide margin. I was a tad intrigued as to why Jonathan Ericsson was playing on the top-pairing with Nick Lidstrom instead of him.
Speaking of Lidstrom, he was also one of Detroit's better players at even strength and did most of the heavy-lifting on the powerplay. Age, fatigue and injuries might have prevented him from killing penalties but Lidstrom performed his tasks well.
Unfortunately for the Red Wings, their shutdown pairing of Niklas Kronwall and Brad Stuart were not good at all. They were the only Detroit blue-liners to be on ice for more of Nashville's chances than their own and it's partially because they were playing against the Radulov line. Lidstrom's abilities being limited means that others have to pick up the slack and these two clearly were not up to task. Stuart's performance on the penalty kill was especially bad.
Some of Detroit's depth players had okay performances this series. Drew Miller played well but his overall play might be overlooked by his horrendous showing in game 5. The loss of Darren Helm also hurt the team as Justin Abdelkader did not play well in his place as the third line center and Todd Bertuzzi was just atrocious no matter where he played. He was Detroit's worst player in every game this series.
The Preds also had one main scoring line this series as Radulov, Bourque and Legwand contributed to a little under half of their goals and Legwand was on ice for almost half of their even strength scoring chances. Along with Pekka Rinne, these three were the reason why Nashville won this series because they were pretty much the team's only source of offense.
Mike Fisher, Sergei Kostitsyn and Martin Erat were not very good at all offensively and they will need to be a lot better if the Preds are going to be a Cup contender. Hornqvist and Andrei Kostitsyn helped pitch in a little but I Would think that Nashville is hoping for a little more offense at even strength out of this group. Kostitsyn was delivering on the powerplay but his performance at even strength wasn't spectacular. This is probably why Craig Smith was inserted into the lineup. He gives their third or fourth line a bit of an offensive spark, which they will need going forward. He was very solid in game 5.
On defense, Weber and Suter were invovled pretty much everywhere. They ended up being negatively rated by scoring chances but they weren't bad by any means. However, they weren't their dominant selves in this series and the Preds are going to need that in the next two rounds. Their defensive depth after Suter & Weber is pretty glaring if you look at their numbers. Klein was giving up chances left and right and Josi & Bouillon didn't play big minutes. Phoenix isn't nearly as dangerous as Detroit, but I do think that the Preds might fall into some matchup issues if one of their lesser defensemen gets exposed.
Head-to-Head at Five-on-Five
Time on Ice
- Weber & Suter played the majority of their minutes against Datsyuk's line and were outchanced, but only by a little. I think it's fair to say that they handled that matchup just fine. Kevin Klein and Roman Josi, on the other hand, got hit hard by the Zetterberg line.
- The Wings opted to matchup the Datsyuk line with Mike Fisher's line instead of Radulov's. Datsyuk won that matchup easily but Zetterberg had trouble handling Legwand and Radulov. Stuart and Kronwall also struggled with their matchup against those two.
- Ian White wasn't matched up with anyone in particular as he played a bit against the Preds' first and third lines. He ended up winning most of those matchups.
- Nick Lidstorm was the only Detroit defenseman who could contain the Radulov-Legwand-Bourque line when they were together. Everyone else had trouble with them, especially Ericsson.
That covers just about everything. Congratulations to the Predators and good luck in the second round.