The Nashville Predators will collide with the Winnipeg Jets in what should be a doozy of a series in the second round of the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Game One of this series takes place on Friday.
The Predators took the Presidents’ Trophy in the regular season and boast one of the stingiest defences in the NHL, with just an average of 2.488 goals against per game. They play a physical, up-tempo style with strong goaltending and defence.
The good news for the Jets is that they know how to counter that. Winnipeg finished second in goals scored in the regular season, with only the Tampa Bay Lightning scoring more. They play a speed game and use their size to push the puck. They can also prove effective on the power play.
When the Predators met the Jets in the regular season, things were physical. They combined for 41 goals across five contests and there was never a dull moment. Expect more of the same when these two clash in the playoffs.
The Jets owned the best home record in the NHL in the regular season and they’ve found a way to keep their barn hopping in the post-season. But Nashville had the most road points in the regular season, plus they went 29-9-4 at Bridgestone. That suggests an impasse, which means something has to give along the way to victory.
The Predators may have the answer in Filip Forsberg, who had four goals against Colorado in the first round and has the hockey sense to work his way through some tough assignments. He could break a game wide open and shift the tempo.
Or the Jets could counter with Dustin Byfuglien, who posted five assists in five games in the first round and put together 25 hits. His physical prowess could put a stop to the likes of Forsberg and zone entry could prove a problem for Nashville’s forwards.
Matchups will be important and the Jets will hope for more out of forwards like Nikolaj Ehlers, but maybe things will come down to goaltending as they often seem to.
In that case, the Jets’ Connor Hellebuyck had a solid first round – to say the least. Dude posted two shutouts in the opening round and very nearly had a third with a stellar Game Two performance. He’ll be tough to beat and all the momentum is going his way.
But Pekka Rinne is obviously no slouch and his experience counts for a lot. Like Hellebuyck, he’s a Vezina finalist this season. He’s made 76 post-season starts, however, and he’s seen a lot more than the 24-year-old across the aisle. That could give him the edge.
There are a lot of intangibles in this series and it’s tempting to cast this clash as the meeting between the league’s best scorers and the league’s best defenders, but there’s more to it than that. Nashville enters with lofty expectations and many think the Predators will win it all.
But Winnipeg will be ready and that barn will be rocking. The Predators, “Smash Plane” or not, may not have all the answers.