Last night's 6-3 thrashing of Atlanta (pun very intended) put Nashville within one point of clinching its 6th playoff berth in 7 years. The Predators can clinch as early as Thursday night with a Dallas loss against Colorado, or if they get at least to over time on Friday against Columbus. So, while it is not written in stone, Predator fans can begin making postseason plans.
A favorable draw can go a long way in determining a team's postseason success, and with the Predators still looking for their first post-season series win, it'll be as important as ever. On On The Forecheck's Facebook Page Monday, fans voted overwhelmingly in favor of facing Detroit. We'll take a closer look at the individual match-ups, however, and give you a chance to vote again.
First, let's take a look at some of the Predators' stats this year so we have something to compare to. Since there are still games left to be played, all numbers will be on a per game basis, and include Tuesday night's games:
43-26-11, 97 pts
- Goals for/game: 2.61 (22nd in the NHL)
- Goals against/game: 2.34 (3rd)
- Power Play %: 15.5% (26th)
- Penalty Kill %: 84.9% (6th)
- Shots for/game: 28.9 (23rd)
- Shots against/game: 30.5 (17th)
The numbers pretty much confirm what most Predators fans already know. We don't score a lot of goals, but we won't let you score very many either. The one thing that sticks out, however, is the shots against. For all of the praise the Predators' defense gets, they sure do give up a good number of shots. This only confirms what we know about just how good and how valuable Pekka Rinne is to this team.
And now we'll take a look at these same numbers, as well as the season series results, for Nashville's possible playoff opponents.
52-19-9, 113 pts
- Goals for/game: 3.1 (2nd in the NHL)
- Goals against/game: 2.2 (1st)
- Power Play %: 24.2% (1st)
- Penalty Kill %: 85.7% (3rd)
- Shots for/game: 32 (6th)
- Shots against/game: 30.1 (12th)
- Season series vs NSH: 2-2
The Vancouver Canucks have, without a doubt, been the best team in the NHL so far this season, and the numbers show just that. However, Nashville has matched-up well with Vancouver this year. They dropped the first game, 3-1, but won two in a row, and could have made it three, were it not for an abysmal third period that saw Nashville get outshot 14-2. The Predators certainly would prefer not to face the President's Trophy winners in the first round, but Nashville has played well against the West Canadian side this season.
- Goals for/game: 3.0 (6th in the NHL)
- Goals against/game: 2.5 (8th)
- Power Play %: 23.7% (2nd)
- Penalty Kill %: 80.2% (23rd)
- Shots for/game: 34.6 (1st)
- Shots against/game: 28.8 (8th)
- Season series vs NSH: 2-2
The San Jose Sharks will be one of the hardest outs in this year's playoffs, and they're a bad match-up for Nashville as well. They already put the most shots on goal of any team in the NHL, and with Nashville's middle-of-the-road defense in regards to shots given up, Pekka Rinne will have to stand on his head if the Predators want to have any sort of chance should they face San Jose. They're also one of the hottest teams in the league, going 26-4-4 since a 6-game losing streak to begin 2011. No Sharks, please.
- Goals for/game: 3.2 (1st in the NHL)
- Goals against/game: 2.9 (20th)
- Power Play %: 22.6% (4th)
- Penalty Kill %: 82.5% (17th)
- Shots for/game: 33.6 (2nd)
- Shots against/game: 30.6 (15th)
- Season series vs NSH: 2-4
Ah, Detroit. Nashville fared well against their rivals from Motown this season, winning 4 of their 6 meetings. But the one that Preds fans will remember the most was Saturday's 4-3 OT loss, where Nashville blow a 3-0 lead in front of their home fans. They've played the Wings well this season, but Detroit always cranks it up a notch in the post-season. While it's not the worst match-up Nashville could have, it's certainly not the one we should hope for.
- Goals for/game: 2.8 (13th in the NHL)
- Goals against/game: 2.7 (13th)
- Power Play %: 16.2% (22nd)
- Penalty Kill %: 78.4% (26th)
- Shots for/game: 30.2 (17th)
- Shots against/game: 32.6 (28th)
- Season series vs NSH: 2-2
Phoenix is definitely one of the teams Predator fans should want to face, especially if Nashville gets home-ice. The Coyotes are one of the worst teams in the league at allowing shots, and the Preds have capitalized this year, scoring 3, 3, 5, and 2 goals in their four contests against the 'Yotes this year. If Nashville's defense holds up, and Rinne plays like Rinne, Phoenix could very well claim the title of Nashville's first playoff victim.
- Goals for/game: 2.6 (23rd in the NHL)
- Goals against/game: 2.4 (7th)
- Power Play %: 16.5% (20th)
- Penalty Kill %: 85.8% (2nd)
- Shots for/game: 28.6 (25th)
- Shots against/game: 27.9 (3rd)
- Season series vs NSH: 3-1
The Kings lost leading scorer Anze Kopitar on March 26th and haven't been the same team since, most recently getting blown out by the Sharks, 6-1. However, they are a scary opponent to think about. The Kings have big, physical forwards that crash the net, and have had the Preds' number this year. They will be limping into the playoffs, but Nashville probably wants to stay away from the Kings.
- Goals for/game: 2.8 (11th in the NHL)
- Goals against/game: 2.9 (23rd)
- Power Play %: 22.3% (5th)
- Penalty Kill %: 80.8% (21st)
- Shots for/game: 28.5 (27th)
- Shots against/game: 32.2 (26th)
- Season series vs NSH: 1-3
Like Phoenix, Anaheim has been a team Nashville has been able to score against this season (4, 4, 4, and 5 goals, respectively). Similarly, Nashville could potentially have home-ice. They do, however, have one of the best players in the NHL in MVP candidate Corey Perry, who leads the league in goals, and is 3rd in points. Still, hockey is a team game, and Nashville's team has played well against Anaheim's this year.
Many people, myself included, think this is Nashville's year to win a playoff series. Nashville can beat any of the teams above when they play well, and they've shown that this year. It's simply a matter of putting it all together for 7 games if they want to take this franchise to where it's never been before. For now, we can only speculate on who their opponent will be, but on Sunday night, the match-ups will be set, and the Nashville Predators will be getting ready for playoff hockey.