After the Nashville Predators got a bit of a challenge from the Colorado Avalanche in the first round, they will face off with the other top contender in the Western Conference in the Winnipeg Jets. Some have called this series a play-in series for the Stanley Cup Final. A TSN analyst called a Predators-Jets game earlier this season a “high-tempo chess match with sledgehammers.”
All of this is to say that this series should be fun. Or terrifying, depending on your inclination.
Here is a comprehensive preview of the Predators’ first-round matchup with Winnipeg.
Series Schedule (Times Central)
Game 1: Friday, April 27 at 7:00 p.m. – Jets at Predators at Bridgestone Arena; TV: NBCSN, CBC, SN360 and TVA Sports
Game 2: Sunday, April 29 at 6:00 p.m. – Jets at Predators at Bridgestone Arena; TV: NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports
Game 3: Tuesday, May 1 at 7:00 p.m. – Predators at Jets at Bell MTS Place; TV: CNBC, CBC, TVA Sports
Game 4: Thursday, May 3 at 8:30 p.m. – Predators at Jets at Bell MTS Place; TV: NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports
*Game 5: Saturday, May 5 at TBD – Jets at Predators at Bridgestone Arena; TV: TBD
*Game 6: Monday, May 7 at TBD – Predators at Jets at Bell MTS Place; TV: TBD
*Game 7: Thursday, May 10 at TBD – Jets at Predators at Bridgestone Arena; TV: TBD
Nashville Predators: 53-18-11, 117 points, finished as the top seed in the Western Conference, having won the Central Division and Presidents’ Trophy
Winnipeg Jets: 52-20-10, 114 points, finished as the second seed in the Central Division and the second-best team in the NHL
Predators All-Time Record vs. Jets/Thrashers: 23-16-1
First Meeting: December 6, 1999, Predators defeated Thrashers 4-3 in overtime
Predators All-Time Record vs. Jets/Thrashers at Bell MTS Place/Philips Arena: 9-10-1
Predators All-Time Records vs. Jets/Thrashers at Bridgestone Arena: 14-6-0
The Predators and Jets/Thrashers have never met in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Meetings This Season
First Meeting: November 20, 2017, Bridgestone Arena, Predators 5 Jets 3
This was one of the first games in which the Predators’ unprecedented depth came to life. Five different Predators scored in this dominant win over the Jets. After the first period ended in a 1-1 tie, the Predators grounded the Jets in the second period with three goals, including one from Ryan Johansen just 26 seconds into the period and from the newly-acquired Kyle Turris. Nick Bonino added one more halfway through the third period, and two garbage-time Jets goals created the final score of 5-3.
Second Meeting: February 27, 2018, Bell MTS Place, Predators 6 Jets 5
In a phrase, this game was bonkers. The Predators came back from a two-goal deficit twice to squeak out the win on the road in Winnipeg. The game went back-and-forth through the first two periods before the Jets got back-to-back scores from Mark Scheifele to put Winnipeg up 3-1. Nashville clawed back with quick strikes from Turris and Mattias Ekholm to tie it at 3 before Nikolaj Ehlers scored less than 30 seconds after Ekholm to put the Jets up going into the third period. Paul Stastny scored at the 10:00 mark of the third period to put the Jets up by two. That’s when the Predators came alive, as Craig Smith scored 55 seconds later to cut the deficit to one goal. Ryan Johansen tied it up a few minutes later with a tight wrist shot. With a minute remaining, newly-acquired Ryan Hartman redirected a Roman Josi shot into the back of the net to secure a come-from-behind victory.
That final minute was the only minute of the game in which the Predators led.
Third Meeting: March 13, 2018, Bridgestone Arena, Predators 3 Jets 1
Nashville, needing a solid performance in front of their home fans, rode a blitzing first period to a strong win over the Jets to clinch the season series. Kevin Fiala opened the scoring early to put the Predators up 1-0. Then, some special teams magic happened. Austin Watson roofed a shot on a shorthanded breakaway to double the team’s lead, and 30 seconds later, Viktor Arvidsson found himself open in front of the net and fired home a one-timer to give the Predators a 3-0 lead. That would be more than enough to hold off the Jets in a game that solidified this matchup as a budding new rivalry in the Western Conference.
Fourth Meeting: March 25, 2018, Bell MTS Place, Jets 6 Predators 5 (SO)
In their final meeting, the Predators picked up another point but could not best the Jets in the shootout. Much like their other meeting in Winnipeg, the Jets dominated the shots with 47 on goalie Juuse Saros. Nashville started the game strong, including a goal by Turris at the final second of the first period to go up 2-0. However, after a wacky second period in which the Jets put up 25 shots, the Predators found themselves up 4-3. In the third period, Blake Wheeler scored just a minute in to tie the game. In the shootout, Scheifele scored the lone shootout goal to give the Jets their only win over the Predators on the season.
Filip Forsberg-Ryan Johansen-Viktor Arvidsson
Kevin Fiala-Kyle Turris-Craig Smith
Colton Sissons-Nick Bonino-Austin Watson
Calle Jarnkrok-Mike Fisher-Miikka Salomaki
Extra forwards: Scott Hartnell, Ryan Hartman, Eeli Tolvanen
Roman Josi-Ryan Ellis
P.K. Subban-Mattias Ekholm
Alexei Emelin-Matt Irwin
Extra defensemen: Matt Irwin, Yannick Weber
Extra: Anders Lindback
Injury report: There are no injuries to any Predators players at this time.
Kyle Connor-Mark Scheifele-Blake Wheeler
Nikolaj Ehlers-Paul Stastny-Patrik Laine
Jack Roslovic-Andrew Copp-Bryan Little
Brandon Tanev-Adam Lowry-Joe Armia
Extras: Shawn Matthias, Marko Dano, Mathieu Perreault
Tobias Enstrom-Jacob Trouba
Ben Chiarot-Dustin Byfuglien
Joe Morrow-Tyler Myers
Extras: Dmitry Kulikov, Tucker Poolman, Josh Morrisey, Sami Niku
Extra: Steve Mason
Injury Report: Ehlers missed the final game of Winnipeg’s first-round series with what head coach Paul Maurice described as a “malaise.” Enstrom also missed time due to injury. However, TSN’s Sara Orlesky reported that both Ehlers and Enstrom participated fully in practice this week, so expect to see both of them on the ice come Friday.
Key Player for Both Sides
Nashville: Kevin Fiala
Fiala’s second round was cut way too short last season due to his gruesome leg injury. Barring any sort of horrific incident, he should be an integral part of the Predators’ attack. He had a goal and an assist in the Predators’ first-round series, but he took six penalty minutes throughout the series. Fiala was also one of the team’s top players in terms of high-danger chance ratio, according to Natural Stat Trick.
Nashville had so much depth that they were able to roll him on the fourth line during their series-clinching win in Game Six. However, don’t expect to see him there in this series. With an offensively-stacked team in Winnipeg coming to town, the Predators will need more players like Fiala to step up.
Winnipeg: Tobias Enstrom
Enstrom has not played since March 23 when he suffered an injury against the Anaheim Ducks. However, he is slated to return sometime in this series against Nashville. He has recently started practicing without a non-contact jersey, so he should be a key part of the Jets lineup.
According to The Athletic, while he was healthy, Enstrom conceded the fewest shots against per 60 minutes among all Jets defensemen. He also gave up the fewest high-danger chances per 60. Gaining that presence back will be instrumental in trying to shut down some of Nashville’s top players.
Match-ups to Watch
Sissons-Bonino-Watson line vs. Patrik Laine
This line was tasked with shutting down Colorado’s top unit of Gabriel Landeskog, Nathan Mackinnon and Mikko Rantanen, and did a pretty decent job. While that top line contributed seven of the Avalanche’s 15 goals, the line anchored by Bonino scored nine goals and managed to win the battles needed to win the series.
The Jets’ top unit is even better than Colorado’s, and the Predators’ shutdown line will have to live up to the task once again. Even if they cannot completely shut down an elite sniper like Laine, one thing they can do is just outscore his line when they’re on the ice.
Jets’ bottom six vs. Predators’ bottom six
The Predators are a team constructed for a Stanley Cup run. As in, they have four lines of pure scoring offense. Winnipeg has plenty of that, but their fourth line of Tanev, Lowry and Armia might not be on the same level as the Predators’ potential fourth line of Jarnkok, Fisher and Salomaki. In addition, the Predators have scratches like Tolvanen, Hartnell and Hartman that could be a better fourth line than the Jets’ current bottom unit.
Both of these teams have incredible top forward talent, but this series will be won or lost with depth. As it looks, the Predators have the advantage there.
Predators: Pekka Rinne
Games Started: 59
Analysis: The Predators’ systematically rested Rinne throughout the season, and it has allowed him to be sharp in the playoffs. With the exception of Game Three in which his defense allowed high-danger chance after high-danger chance, Rinne effectively silenced the Avalanche offense in the first round. Oh yeah, and he’s a finalist for the Vezina Trophy. Look for him to continue his hot run in the playoffs.
Jets: Connor Hellebuyck
Games Started: 64
Analysis: This has been Hellebuyck’s breakout year. At the age of 24, he is now in charge of the crease in Winnipeg. He’s had a Vezina-caliber year as well, helping to lead the Jets with a whopping 44 wins en route to an appearance at the 2018 All-Star Game. His lack of experience may cost him later in the series, but if these two teams weren’t so offensively powerful, this series could have easily turned into a goalie battle.
The main storyline of this series will likely be the battle between two offensive juggernauts. Three of the four regular-season battles between these two teams featured eight total goals or more. However, that is discounting the fact that this will also be a showdown between two Vezina finalists in Rinne and Hellebuyck. While the scoreboard may not reflect it game in and game out, goaltending might become a factor.
When both teams are peppering the nets with 40+ shots, individual saves down the stretch may become crucial in squeaking out close wins. So, while a lot of attention will be given to pucks in the back of the net, keep an eye on the ones trying to stop the pucks.
Will the Predators’ third pairing be exploited?
Experts will constantly talk about the only way to beat the Predators: score while the third pairing is on the ice. The Avalanche were unable to do that. Emelin and Irwin did not account for any points, but they each had an even 0 rating and were not liabilities by any stretch. Irwin certainly did his best to try and contribute offensively, as he put up 4 shots on goal.
The Jets may try to exploit that pairing while they’re on the ice in this series. The benefit for the Predators is that they should be able to try a number of combinations if the current pairing slips up. Bitetto and Weber will be waiting in the wings. Considering how solid the Predators’ top four has been, the Jets may need to try and roll their top line as much as possible while Irwin and Emelin are on the ice.
This series is going to be a battle.
One of the best battles hockey fans have ever seen.
Expect this series to go the distance. This will be a back-and-forth slugfest of epic proportions. While the Predators could win the series just with home wins, I expect to see the Jets steal one in Nashville and the Predators steal one in Winnipeg. Ultimately, the Predators’ offensive and defensive depth will prove too much for the Jets.
Prediction: Predators in Seven
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