Early back and forth
Nashville posted a 2-0-1 record against San Jose during the regular season, nearly making it a perfect three for three. Not much has changed on the Sharks roster from the time the Predators last played them and now. They have a healthy Logan Couture back and can easily quick-strike an opponent in the offensive zone.
As the playoffs progress, the opening game in each series will get tighter and tighter due to each team not wanting to allow the opening goal or have that initial swing of momentum fall on the wrong side of the ice. Tonight will be no exception.
Part of me believes that the first five to six minutes may showcase a slower pace of hockey, where one team is waiting on the other to make a mistake.
At the same time, San Jose hasn't played in a week while Nashville is coming off a grueling one-goal victory in a game seven just two nights ago. Don't be shocked if the Predators try to take advantage of their current rhythm and strike while the iron is hot.
Nashville will continue on with a trusty Pekka Rinne manning the net. San Jose will most likely go with Martin Jones, who led them past the Los Angeles Kings.
That's a big difference in net, no pun intended.
Many thought that the Jones vs Jonathan Quick matchup in the first round gave the Kings an obvious advantage, but we all know how that ended. The same goes for this Sharks/Predators series. Rinne obviously seems like the better of the two goaltenders, especially if he plays at the same level he finished the Ducks series with, but it's impossible to really tell at this point.
Rinne's playoff history gives way to a potential collapse at some point, where it could break Nashville's hopes of bouncing past the second round or further. At the same time, the Predators had never won an elimination game six or even played in a game seven.
Things change. If Rinne plays good to great hockey for Nashville, the Sharks will be in...
(I'm so sorry)
This could be the most intriguing aspect of tonight's game: how does Pete DeBoer match his lines against Nashville's forward group and defensive pairings?
Now-former Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau had plenty of trouble trying to silence the Johansen and Ribeiro lines, and did a decent job, until Craig Smith returned in game six. Nashville bumped Forsberg up to the top line and Wilson to the second line. Boudreau could only hope to contain those lines, which didn't happen.
Defensively, the Marc-Edouard Vlasic/Justin Braun and Paul Martin/Brent Burns pairings do match well against the Weber/Josi and Ekholm/Ellis pairs. Nashville may have the better of those in regards to overall cumulative skill, but Burns and Vlasic -- Burns, especially -- are going to be a nightmare to shut down.
Offensively, the Predators may have a slight edge in terms of forward depth and talent.
I'm expecting Peter Laviolette to again matchup his bruising fourth line of Miikka Salomaki, Paul Gaustad and, presumably, Colton Sissons against the Joe Thornton line.
From there, its all on DeBoer to to try and out-fox Laviolette with his combinations.
That's a tall, tall task.