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Nashville Predators

The Canucks May Be Favored, But Don’t Write The Predators Off So Easily



Photo of Alex Carrier, right, by John Russell/Nashville Predators

Despite being a popular pick to finish toward the bottom of the Central Division and out of the playoffs at the start of the season, the Nashville Predators’ postseason hiatus lasted just one year.

In the opening round, they drew the Pacific Division-winning Vancouver Canucks, who have turned it around this season under head coach Rick Tocchet.

The Canucks started the season fast and established themselves as an early powerhouse, but the underdog Predators can still win this series. Unlike their first-round matchup with the Colorado Avalanche back in 2022 (the first time in franchise history a Predators team was swept in the playoffs), don’t be surprised if the Predators move onto the second round. Here’s why:

The top line

The Predators’ top forwards trio — Filip Forsberg, Ryan O’Reilly, and Gustav Nyquist — have been the best forward combination the Predators have seen in some time.

They haven’t just scored a lot, they’ve been dominant. Playing with one another has brought out the best in each. Forsberg recorded 48 goals and 94 points, both career-bests. Nyquist also scored a career-high 75 points, and O’Reilly was arguably the driving catalyst for both players (his 43 assists were the third-most of his career). Not to mention he notched 26 goals and 69 points, his third-best career goal total and his second-best career point total.

The trio accounted for 36 percent of the team’s total offense, and there wasn’t a stretch where they weren’t reliable. When the Predators needed a goal, often it was Forsberg, O’Reilly, and Nyquist who head coach Andrew Brunette would send out onto the ice.

According to Natural Stat Trick, Nashville’s top line had an expected goals-for percentage (xGF%) of 54.16, during 5-on-5 play, which is significantly higher than Vancouver’s top line of Brock Boeser, J.T Miller, and Phil Di Giuseppe, who registered an xGF% of 42.96.


If the Predators’ top line can match its regular-season production, they can more than hang with and outscore a team that boasts three of the top scoring forwards in the league (Boeser, Miller, and Elias Pettersson).

At last…secondary scoring

Part of the Predators’ downfall in years past was the lack of secondary scoring. It’s plagued them, cost them playoff series and chances at deep runs when the pieces all seemed to be there.

Yes, the team’s best players must be their best players, but they also need to be complimented on the score sheet.

This season, the Predators have seen impressive contributions from several players, including Luke Evangelista (16 goals, 39 points), Tommy Novak (18 goals, 45 points), Mark Jankowski, Michael McCarron and Cole Smith, which isn’t bad from a rookie and four players all earning under $1 million per year.

Novak started to establish himself as a skilled goal scorer this season. Once he came back from the upper-body injury that he suffered earlier in the season, he looked more and more dangerous down the stretch and looked to be a real threat to score every time he touched the puck in the offensive zone.

Brunette opted to start many games this season with the McCarron, Smith, and Jankowski/Kiefer Sherwood line on the ice. This line has been referred to as the energy line several times because they set the tempo or calm things down after the opposition scores a timely goal.

However, unlike a lot of bottom-six groups, they scored more than their fair share of goals. McCarron hit the back of the net 12 times, a career high, while Smith scored nine times (also a career-high) and Jankowski notched seven goals in just 32 games.

Nashville’s secondary scoring gives it the luxury of not taxing Forsberg, O’Reilly and Nyquist as much, and resting them more. If the Predators top line is clicking and their bottom six is scoring, the Canucks’ top players may have a hard time keeping up.

Nashville’s MVP

The obvious reason the Predators can win this series is Juuse Saros. The star goalie, who was the subject of trade talk earlier in the season, is once again playing at an elite level. The 29-year-old Finn has been the backbone of the team’s success since he took over for Pekka Rinne in 2019, and despite a rocky start to the season, he is back to performing like one of the best goalies in the NHL.

It’s debatable which team has the best group of forwards and defensemen, but few would argue that the Predators have the best goalie in this series.

The Florida Panthers rode Sergei Bobrovsky to the Stanley Cup Final last season, and the Predators fell victim to a red-hot goalie themselves back in 2012 when they faced the Phoenix Coyotes in the second round and were foiled by the stellar play of Mike Smith, who finished that series with a .943 save percentage.

Saros is perhaps the most likely goaltender in this field of 16 who could put a team on his back and win a playoff series singlehandedly.

This season, Saros has a 2.86 goals-against average and a .906 save percentage, but a look at his recent numbers paints a more impressive picture. He has the second-most wins (16), ninth-best save percentage (.912) and 13th-best GAA (2.74) since the All-Star break.

It may be wishful thinking for Predators fans to expect a 2017-like postseason run. That Predators group had its Cup window wide open, whereas this team is at least a few years away from truly competing. But there’s no denying the similarities are there.

Since the Predators’ infamous 9-2 loss to the Dallas Stars on Feb. 15, they’re 20-5-3, the second-best record in the NHL over that span. In contrast, the Canucks have slightly fallen off the torrid pace they set to start the season, amassing a record of 13-11-3 during the same period.

The Predators have battled through adversity this season and come out on the other side more confident. They’ve been rewarded for sticking with Brunette’s fast-paced, relentless, in-your-face style of play. All these things added together could make the perfect recipe for the underdog Predators to take out the Western Conference’s No. 2 seed.

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