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Preds-Canucks Game 5 Analysis: Strength vs Strength

Apr 30, 2024; Vancouver, British Columbia, CAN; Nashville Predators forward Luke Evangelista (77) and goalie Juuse Saros (74) celebrate the victory against the Vancouver Canucks at the end of game five of the first round of the 2024 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Rogers Arena. Mandatory Credit: Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports

All the way back in Game 1, we looked at how both teams seemed to be able to throw some good punches (no, not the chirpy kind, though we’ve seen some of those, too). There were a lot of stretches where it’d look like the Canucks and Predators were taking turns with skating sprints down to the other team’s goal line, with several long sieges by Vancouver of the Nashville goal.

Vancouver held the edge in possession, yes, but Nashville wasn’t powerless against them–and for the first two games in Vancouver, that held pretty firmly to form. Nashville’s victory in game two largely came from a 12-minute, Lower Broadway revival of the performance that brought us the Streak. The Preds then managed to hang on through nearly an entire period’s worth of Vancouver possession dominance, but closed out the game looking strong. Good vibes coming back to Nashville, right?

Well. Maybe not.

Despite stronger showings in possession across the board by the Preds, they couldn’t get past Vancouver’s defense in Game 3, and some bad habits on offense came back to bite them in Game 4. And the special teams–ohhhh boy, the special teams.

Before tonight’s power-play goal in the third period, Nashville had been putting up goose eggs with a man (or more) advantage since game one. For those of us who lived through some of the power-play droughts of the Laviolette era, it was a tad unnerving, though I will say that the Preds have never looked as desperate to score in this series as they did in those dark times.

And now, here we are in what is an admittedly familiar, if not exactly comfortable, state of being: down 3-2, against a highly-favored team that seems to just have more star power no matter where you look on the roster, and up against a budding feel-good story in goal that the Canadian-heavy hockey media has made much of. And kudos to Arturs Silovs, the kid has been doing a phenomenal job after getting thrown into the lions’ den. I just wish it wasn’t always the Preds who seem to be cast as the lions in such a situation.

As we turn back to Bridgestone, it’s pretty fair to say: this series has been weird.

Yes, the team that performed better in the regular season is up 3-2 and had long stretches where they looked like not just the better team of the two, but better by sizable margins. But that team has not been the one that has done better per Corsi or expected goals for the last three games, despite taking two of them.

Yes, the Predators have grabbed their wins in this series on the road, where they had a (marginally) better record during the regular season. But they also arguably outperformed the Canucks in both games in Nashville…with the exception of about six minutes of on-ice time, with four of those coming at the worst possible time in Game 4.

Out of the entire series thus far, Game 5 is the one that is the closest to even, both by what you see and what statistics tell you. It was a pitched game, with both sides having stretches of playing better; Nashville came out on top in the form of a sliver of an advantage on Corsi and a well-timed resuscitation of the power play. It was, in a series of lightning-strike goals and a flurry of reversals–whether game-to-game or minute-to-minute–the most evenly matched of the five games so far.

That Nashville won in such a game speaks to my hope that when both teams are at their best, it’s the Predators who can come out on top.

Once again, it’s down to Game 6 in Nashville to keep the Preds’ season alive. The Predators have shown that they’re more than capable of beating Vancouver, and doing so when they have the bleacher-shaking crowd of Rogers Arena behind them. And if they can tighten things up a little, they might just get another shot to do it for a Game 7.

Odds and Ends

  • I’m not going to lie: the commentators on the national broadcast have not been doing folks watching many favors if they’re looking for more than cliches. I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve heard Ryan McDonagh described as “a savvy veteran, a quiet leader” on the broadcast.
  • The on-screen stats have been a bit more frequent at least, and the intermission reports have been decent. I’ve always enjoyed TNT’s whiteboard breakdowns and such more than the punditry. Now, if we could get Cassie Campbell-Pascall or A.J. Mleczko on the call for the national broadcast…
  • While I am a crepuscular creature by nature, going from a 4PM Central puck drop to a 9PM Central puck drop (or, for heathens like me, the dreaded 10PM Eastern puck drop) between games is. A lot. I know there’s really no better way to do this short of realignment that dumps Nashville in the East, but ugh. Time zones.

Three Stars

  1. First Star goes to Juuse Saros. I briefly considered photoshopping an image of him over Steven Seagal’s face for the poster of the 1992 movie Under Siege. The Predators have been helping him out on defense and limited their turnovers (something that cost them dearly the first two games in Nashville) for Game 5, but he remains the reason why Nashville is able to hang around long enough for their work to pay off.
  2. Second Star goes to Filip Forsberg. Assisting on both of the Preds’ goals tonight (his third and fourth of the series), drawing a couple penalties, and continuing to be a dynamic threat on offense. They grow up so fast.
  3. Andrew Brunette’s ice-time load management. Are there times where I wish the Preds would go full NHL ‘99, turn off fatigue, and play their top line for 60 full minutes? If only those settings existed in real life, reader, you bet I would. But alas, they don’t. And I remember the days under Peter Laviolette when Roman Josi’s ice-time was in the 35+ minute range way more often than it should have been.
    Both for the strategic perspective of not having the best players absolutely wiped by the time they get to game four of the first round and also treating hockey players like the humans they are, this is a vastly improved method of existence. And, truly, I think it is one of the big reasons why the Predators have continued to stick around in this series where in other years they have fallen off a cliff as a series goes long.

Game 6 awaits, y’all. Whatever superstitions you’ve got, load up big–I’d love to see how quiet the crowd in Vancouver can get if the Preds notch a home win now.

Talking Points