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Nashville Predators

4 Potential X-Factors For Predators’ Playoff Matchup vs. Canucks



Photo of Luke Evangelista, right, by John Russell/Nashville Predators

Playoff hockey is often decided in the margins.

So while the Nashville Predators are sure to lean on stars like Filip Forsberg, Roman Josi and Juuse Saros, a Stanley Cup run will require contributions from every part of the lineup.

Here are four potential X-factors for Nashville (47-30-5) in its first-round matchup against the Vancouver Canucks (50-23-9). The best-of-7 series begins Sunday at Rogers Arena in Vancouver at 9 p.m. CT.

Andrew Brunette

Brunette’s first year as Predators head coach went about as well as anyone could’ve expected. Nashville overcame a slow start to produce its highest win and point totals since 2018.

Although Brunette made 49 playoff appearances during his playing career and has served in the front office or on the coaching staff for multiple playoff teams, this will be his first trip as a full-fledged head coach. He led the Florida Panthers to the Presidents’ Trophy and the second round of the Eastern Conference playoffs after taking over as interim head coach following Joel Quenneville’s resignation just two weeks into the 2021-22 season.

How Brunette handles the chess match with fellow Jack Adams Award candidate Rick Tocchet – who helped the Canucks win the Pacific Division title during his first full season in charge – will be key to the series.

Depth scoring

Most of Nashville’s scoring punch comes from Josi and its top forward line of Forsberg, Ryan O’Reilly and Gustav Nyquist, who have combined for 120 of the team’s 266 goals.

At times, the Predators have been too reliant on those four players to generate offense. Nashville has enjoyed more success – as shown during its franchise-best 18-game point streak – when the scoresheet includes a variety of names.

Tommy Novak, Luke Evangelista, Colton Sissons, Jason Zucker, Michael McCarron and Kiefer Sherwood all finished the season with double-digit goals. Getting production out of that group and others may ease the pressure on Nashville’s go-to scorers.

Luke Evangelista

Speaking of Evangelista, he looks to be Nashville’s most promising youngster. The rookie forward racked up 16 goals and 23 assists in 80 games this season, which placed him sixth in points (39) among first-year NHL players.

Evangelista’s confidence seemed to grow down the stretch. More than half of his points came after the All-Star break, and he fired a career-high 10 shots on goal in the Predators’ playoff-clinching overtime loss to the Winnipeg Jets on April 9.

The 2020 second-round pick is set to make his NHL playoff debut against Vancouver and could further cement himself into Nashville’s long-term plans, particularly in the top six, with a strong postseason performance.

The power play

The Predators’ power-play unit ranked 16th in the NHL with a 21.6% success rate during the regular season, which is also tied for the second-best power-play rate in franchise history.

That was a step in the right direction from last year’s 17.6% power-play percentage, which ranked 27th. O’Reilly (14 power-play goals), Forsberg (13) and Josi (9) have been the primary catalysts behind the improved numbers.

But Nashville went 0-for-9 on power-play opportunities and got outscored 13-6 across three losses to Vancouver earlier this year. For the Predators to advance beyond the first round, they must find some success in man-advantage situations.

Follow Russell Vannozzi on X/Twitter @RussellV_MSP.

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