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Defense will be the difference for Nashville

by Dan Rosen

If Nashville is going to upset Detroit in round 1, their defense must step up to Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg. Suter highlight video
Three days before the Western Conference quarterfinal series between Nashville and Detroit began, veteran NBC and TSN broadcaster Pierre McGuire pinpointed what he thought the Predators needed most to pull the upset.

"I think the three young defensemen, when you talk about Shea Weber, Ryan Suter and Danny Hamhuis, are going to have to step up huge on (Pavel) Datsyuk and (Henrik) Zetterberg," McGuire said. "Especially Shea Weber. He's got to be a physical presence throughout the entire series. He just brings it all the time."

One game into the series, McGuire appears dead on. The reason Detroit won the series opener, 3-1, was because of a fortunate play by Datsyuk and Zetterberg that resulted in the game-winning goal.

Datsyuk and Zetterberg prevented Weber from clearing the puck. Datsyuk then had the puck come to him with Zetterberg dashing toward the slot. He made a cross-ice pass to Zetterberg, who one-timed the puck into the back of the net.

Game 2 is Saturday, when NBC debuts its 2008 National Hockey League playoff coverage. It represents another chance for Nashville's young blueliners to be the difference in what could turn into a long series.

"I like Pierre's comment about the three big Ds because they're the guys that are going to have to make a difference, and I love watching Weber play," NBC and Versus play-by-play specialist Mike “Doc” Emrick said. "We like collisions and we like guys that can generate them, and it'll be interesting to see because they do have that bucketload of adrenaline and character."

The broadcasters, including Mike Milbury and Don Cherry, who all were on a conference call Monday, hit on many bits and pieces of what could be interesting subplots in this 1 vs. 8 series between the Presidents' Trophy winners and one of the final teams to clinch a playoff berth.

However, the goaltenders – Detroit's veteran Dominik Hasek and Nashville's young Dan Ellis – generated the most discussion.

"Is Hasek going to be able to perform at the level that he has done in the past and drive them deep into the playoffs?" Milbury asked. "If he can't, with (Chris) Osgood, they've been just OK. But I think a rested Hasek should be OK for Detroit, certainly good enough to beat Nashville."

Hasek was just fine Thursday, stopping 19 of 20 shots. Cherry, the outlandish CBC commentator, also is curious to see how Hasek will hold up.

"I would say that Hasek doesn't seem as though he's got that bounce," Cherry said. "He's stopping pucks, don't get me wrong, but remember when he was with Buffalo and they went to the Final and he was out challenging guys and yelling at the referees? This year he doesn't seem the same guy.

"If he's on, they're home-free as far as I'm concerned, but he's got to be on."

Ellis was peppered with 39 shots and brushed aside 37, but he stood strong in the second period by stopping all 17 of Detroit's shots. The Red Wings held a 13-3 advantage in the third to put the game away.

Ellis's performance didn't in any way shock Emrick, who spent a portion of the conference call praising the 27-year-old, who grabbed hold of the starting job right around February, when Nashville began its playoff push.

Ellis went 4-0-1 down the stretch, including 2-0-1 with two shutouts and a 0.33 goals-against average from March 25-30 to earn the NHL Second Star of the Week honors. He finished the season 23-10-3 with a 2.34 GAA, pretty good for a guy who spent three years in college and four in the minors, save for a one-game stint with Dallas in 2003-04, before making it big in the NHL.

"We've had some goaltenders that have come in and have been really strong with long undefeated streaks at the beginning of their careers, but this guy is not 22 now," Emrick said. "He's a college guy that's had some seasoning in the pros before he came in, and to catch on at just the right time when Nashville needed him to get into the playoffs and to fight their way in, I think that's the impressive test that he's had to go through.

"The pressure of playing Detroit is probably going to be equivalent to what he's had the last couple of weeks. To register what he did, and be an NHL Player of the Week two weeks from the end when it really is crunch time for his team, I think that's impressive."

The pressure, though, mounts Saturday as Nashville must win to avoid falling into the dreaded 0-2 hole before heading back into its own building.

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