ashton-remax_NEWAfter blitzing, dismantling and destroying the Chicago Blackhawks, the Nashville Predators hope to make the St. Louis Blues face the music in the second round of the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

For the second straight year and fourth time in franchise history, the Predators have moved on to the second round. This time around, they aren’t satisfied to just be past the first round: they are prepared for a long run for the ultimate prize, the Stanley Cup.

Now, these two Central Division rivals square off in the second round. Here is everything you need to know about this matchup between the Predators and Blues:


Series Schedule (Times CT)

Game One, Wednesday, April 26, 7 pm: Predators @ Blues, NBCSN/CBC/TVA Sports

Game Two, Friday, April 28, 7 pm: Predators @ Blues, NBCSN/CBC/TVA Sports

Game Three, Sunday, April 30, 2 pm: Blues @ Predators, NBC/Sportsnet/TVA Sports

Game Four, Tuesday, May 2, 8:30 pm: Blues @ Predators, NBCSN/Sportsnet/TVA Sports

*Game Five, Friday, May 5, TBD: Predators @ Blues, TBD

*Game Six, Sunday, May 7, TBD: Blues @ Predators, TBD

*Game Seven, Tuesday, May 9, TBD: Predators @ Blues, TBD

Team Records

Nashville Predators: 41-29-12, 94 points, finished as second wild card team in the Western Conference, 4-0 in the playoffs so far, swept the Blackhawks

St. Louis Blues: 46-29-7, 99 points, finished third in the Central Division, 4-1 in the playoffs so far, beat the Minnesota Wild in the first round

Match-up History

Predators All-Time Record vs. Blues: 49-52-4

First Meeting: November 14th, 1998, Blues defeated Predators 5-1

Predators All-Time Record vs. Blues at Scottrade Center: 22-29-1

Predators All-Time Record vs. Blues at Bridgestone Arena: 27-23-3

This will be their first-ever meeting in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.


ships n trips

Meetings This Season

First Meeting:
November 10, 2016, Bridgestone Arena, Predators 3 Blues 1

The Predators have shown their ability to withstand adversity and come from behind during these playoffs, and that ability may have had its roots in the early games of the season. After Jaden Schwartz put the Blues up 1-0 early in the first period, Nashville took over the game, outshooting St. Louis 19-13 in the final two periods of the game. Calle Jarnkrok tied the game up with a beautiful wrist shot off a no-look backhand feed by Colin Wilson. James Neal put the Predators up 2-1 in the third period, before Jarnkrok buried his second of the game on a great one-time feed to bury the Blues. The win would be the fifth part of a six-game point streak to start November.

Second Meeting:
Saturday, November 19, Scottrade Center, Predators 1 Blues 3

In a highly-contested, tight affair, the Blues were able power through the first two periods of the game and get a 1-1 tie going into the third period. That was when St. Louis took over, outshooting the Predators 12 to 6 in the final frame, including goals from Kyle Brodziak and Vladimir Tarasenko to put them up for good and secure a 3-1 victory. The lone Predators goal came on the power play in the second period from, of all people, Mike Ribeiro.

Third Meeting:
Tuesday, December 13, Bridgestone Arena, Predators 6 Blues 3

Early in the second period, it looked as if this was going to be a disastrous game for the Predators. Future Predator Brad Hunt of the #FreeBradHunt movement scored a couple minutes into the second frame to put St. Louis up 3-0. That was when the Predators kicked into high gear. James Neal and Filip Forsberg each tallied in the second period to cut the lead to one goal after two periods. The onslaught was on from there, as the Predators scored four straight goals in the third period to secure a 6-3 win. Ryan Johansen scored the tying goal at 3:04 of the third on a loose puck in the slot, and Mike Fisher finished off a 2-on-1 to put Nashville in front for good. Once again, the Predators showed their ability to come back from big deficits early in games.

Fourth Meeting:
Friday, December 30, Scottrade Center, Predators 4 Blues 0

Welcome to the Saros and Arvidsson show. Those two players pretty much defined the Predators’ shutout win over the Blues, securing a season series win over the division rivals. With his team already up 2-0, Viktor Arvidsson took a great feed from Matt Irwin, made a between-the-legs deke to get around the Blues defense, then went backhand-forehand on the goalie to give the Predators a 3-0 lead. While that was the highlight of the night, perhaps of the year, goaltender Juuse Saros was also spectacular, making 25 saves en route to his first-ever NHL shutout.

Fifth Meeting:
Sunday, April 2, Scottrade Center, Predators 1 Blues 4

In their final meeting and first matchup in over three months, the Blues took down a tired Predators squad on the back end of back-to-back games. Blues goaltender Jake Allen was superb in this one, stopping 35 of the Predators’ 36 shots on the day. Despite the lopsided shot count, the Blues dominated this one. After Johansen tied the game for the Predators midway through the first period, the Blues scored three unanswered, including one goal just 55 seconds into the second period by Alexander Steen. With the loss, the Predators missed out on a chance to clinch a playoff berth, but would do so anyways with the Arizona Coyotes’ win over the Los Angeles Kings later that night.


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Projected Lines/Pairings

Nashville Predators: 

Forwards

Filip Forsberg-Ryan Johansen-Viktor Arvidsson

Kevin Fiala-Calle Jarnkrok-James Neal

Pontus Aberg-Colton Sissons-Colin Wilson

Harry Zolnierczyk-Mike Fisher-Austin Watson

Extra forwards: P.A. Parenteau, Vernon Fiddler, Miikka Salomaki, Cody McLeod, Craig Smith (INJ)

Defense

Roman Josi-Ryan Ellis

Mattias Ekholm-P.K. Subban

Matt Irwin-Yannick Weber

Extra defensmen: Anthony Bitetto, Brad Hunt

Goalies

Pekka Rinne

Juuse Saros

Injury report:  Colin Wilson has been practicing with the team this week and should return to the lineup. However, Craig Smith has yet to return to practice, and his status remains unclear.

St. Louis Blues:

Forwards

Jaden Schwartz-Paul Stastny-Vladimir Tarasenko

Alex Steen-Patrik Berglund-David Perron

Vladimir Sobotka-Jori Lehtera-Magnus Paajarvi

Scottie Upshall-Kyle Brodziak-Ryan Reaves

Extra forwards: Zach Sanford, Nail Yakupov, Ivan Barbashev, Dmitrij Jaskin, Robby Fabbri (INJ)

Defense

Jay Bouwmeester-Alex Pietrangelo

Joel Edmundson-Colton Parayko

Carl Gunnarsson-Robert Bortuzzo

Extra defense: None

Goalies

Jake Allen

Carter Hutton

Injury Report: Fabbri is still recovering from knee surgery, and likely won’t see the ice this series.


Key Player for Both Sides

Nashville: Ryan Johansen

Throughout his career, Johansen has been a clutch playoff performer. In 24 career playoff games, he has racked up 20 points, six of which came in the Predators’ sweep of the Blackhawks. It seems that Johansen has reached a new level in the 2017 playoffs, and if the Predators want to be successful against the Blues’ top forwards, Johansen will need to have another strong series. In addition to his offensive prowess, Johansen played a strong defensive game, keeping top players on the Blackhawks off the score sheet. Quite simply, Johansen was a force to be reckoned with in the first round, and will look to keep that up

St. Louis: Vladimir Tarasenko

In his short yet incredible NHL career, Tarasenko has become one of the league’s elite snipers, and is always noticeable on the ice. Whether it’s a ridiculous pass, like one of his set-ups in Game Five of the first round, or a highlight-reel goal, the Tarasenk-Show can do it all. He has also been strong in the playoffs, putting up 29 points in 38 career playoff games. However, his slump during the 2016 Western Conference Final. Tarasenko was kept off the score sheet until garbage time in Game Six of that series. If the Predators want to shut down the Blues’ offense, their first step should be to contain Tarasenko.


Match-ups to Watch

Viktor Arvidsson vs. Colton Parayko

Now, these players may seem oddly specific, but they represent just how big some of these Blues players are. St. Louis features four different players that are 6’4” and weigh over 220 pounds. That is a lot of large humans. Coming off a series against a much smaller and less physically imposing Blackhawks team, the Predators must find a way to counteract how tough these Blues can be.

“It’s always a battle against St. Louis,” forward Colton Sissons said. “They play a heavy game, there’s going to be a lot of physical confrontations, probably moreso than playing the Blackhawks, so that’ll be a test for us.”

Filip Forsberg vs. Vladimir Tarasenko

Two of the league’s elite puck-handlers and shooters will go head to head in this series. You should be hard pressed to find one of these guys without the other on the ice during the second round. Both Forsberg and Tarasenko play a similar game: they are heavy on the puck, they can control the puck unlike most NHL players, have silky smooth hands, an accurate shot and a release that can shock even the mightiest of goaltenders.

Forsberg, however, is up for the challenge of squaring off against a skilled, young player like Tarasenko.

“He’s powerful, one of the best shots in the league,” he said. “We’ve seen him a lot and he’s a very good player.”

While it may not be Forsberg’s total responsibility to shut down Tarasenko, it will be interesting to see how the two forwards stack up after the series.

Austin Watson vs. Ryan Reaves

What happens when two physically imposing forwards step on the ice against each other? Sparks could fly, along with some fisticuffs and big hits, when these two large humans take the ice. The 6’1”, 225 lb. Reaves has just one playoff goal in 30 career playoff games, but his impact is usually felt in the physical side of things. It may be up to the 6’4”, 204 lb. Watson to counteract Reaves’ physicality, but also be able to score and help on the offensive end. Through four playoff games, Watson has the same number of playoff points that Reaves does. The Blues are an imposing, hard-hitting team, and Reaves contributes heavily to that, so having Watson out there trailing him will help counteract that physicality.


Goaltender Comparison (Playoff Stats)

Nashville: 

Pekka Rinne

Games started: 4

Wins: 4

Losses: 0

GAA: 0.70

SV%: .976

Analysis: Despite what some of the Blackhawks players and coaches may say, Rinne is a huge reason, if not the most important reason, why the Predators swept the Blackhawks. He played a consistent, solid, sound series and never showed any signs of weakeness. All of that regular season rest afforded to him by the arrival of Juuse Saros has helped him look sharper, cleaner and more refined at this time of year than ever before. He’ll need to keep that up against a high-octane Blues team.

St. Louis:

Jake Allen

Games Started: 5

Wins: 4

Losses: 1

GAA: 1.47

SV%: .956

Analysis: Oh boy, what did they put in Jake Allen’s drinking water, because whoever did deserves a medal from Blues fans. Allen has been playing out of his mind during these playoffs, and was big reason why the series against the Wild was so lopsided. Minnesota put 182 (!) shots on Allen, and he stopped all but eight of them. If he can continue this hot play, the Predators may have to battle in some low-scoring affairs during this series.


Burning Questions

Which goalie will regress (if any)?

Both Rinne and Allen were ridiculously good in round one, and will need to be again in round two. If they keep up that kind of superb goaltending, this could be one of the lowest-scoring series to date. However, it is unclear how sustainable this goaltending bonanza is. Rinne is well-rested and faced just 126 shots in the first round, so he does not seem due for a regression. However, Allen’s may not be able to withstand another 182-shot load. This series may come down to which goalie blinks first.

Will either team be able to dictate the tone?

In their series against the Blackhawks, the Predators played all four games on their own terms. They dictated the pace, the speed, the rhythm, the tone and the feel of the game. Quite simply, Nashville imposed its will over Chicago. This Blues team, however, won’t push over so easily. They have much larger players, play a more physical style, and have the ability to control pace and impose their will. In order to keep their momentum up from the first round, the Predators need to be able to impose their will on St. Louis like they did to Chicago, but also beware of how dangerous the Blues can be. If either team can find that dominant mode throughout the series, it might be as quick as the Chicago series.

Will the Predators roll the depth again?

The Predators were able to finish off the Blackhawks so easily in part because they beat them at their own game: depth. In Game Two of that series, five different players scored for the Predators, including a top-line center, a middle six winger, two depth forwards, and a defenseman. They did not need to rely on the top scorers on the team to carry the offense. Head coach Peter Laviolette could roll with any of his four lines and be able to generate offense. Those depth players need to step up again to counter a similarly deep Blues team.


Prediction

I had the foresight to pick the Predators to win their first-round series, but of course, I could have never predicted the sweep. Now, the Predators have defied all expectations and are riding high. If they can counteract St. Louis’ physicality, keep Rinne hot, find that depth scoring touch again and impose their will like they did against Chicago, this series should also go Nashville’s way. I’m not saying another sweep is in their future, but the Predators are the team to beat in the Western Conference, and they should go on to win this series and reach their first-ever conference final.

Predators over Blues in six games

Stick with Penalty Box Radio for complete coverage of the Predators in the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

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