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Predators vs. Stars playoff preview

Nashville looking to continue late-season surge; Dallas reliant on goaltending

by Tracey Myers @TraMyers_NHL / NHL.com Staff Writer

Nashville Predators vs. Dallas Stars

Nashville: 47-29-6, 100 points, first in the Central

Dallas: 43-32-7, 93 points, first wild card in Western Conference

Season series: NSH: 3-2-0; DAL: 2-1-2

 

RELATED: Complete Predators vs. Stars series coverage]

 

The skinny 

The Nashville Predators weren't as dominant as they were last season, when they won the Presidents' Trophy, but still finished the season atop the Central Division heading into the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Nashville had its ups and downs, including early injuries to defenseman P.K. Subban (19 games, upper body) and forwards Viktor Arvidsson (21 games, thumb) and Filip Forsberg (17 games, upper body), but responded by winning five of its final six games and going 8-2-1 in its final 11.

"You look at our team and you see the depth. You go through our whole lineup and there's a lot of tremendous players on our club," forward Ryan Johansen said. "We're all coming together. We're a pretty darn good hockey team. The focus right now is there's still a lot of work to be done."

Dallas did a good job of holding off the Colorado Avalanche for the first wild card from the Western Conference, going 5-1-1 in its final seven games. The Stars have been strong defensively (2.44 goals against per game, second in the NHL), and their goaltending from Ben Bishop and Anton Khudobin, who were in the mix for the William M. Jennings Trophy for allowing the fewest goals in the NHL until late in the season, has been outstanding.

Last season, the Stars held the first wild card March 11, 2018. But they struggled down the stretch, including going 0-4-2 on a critical six-game road trip, which resulted in them missing the playoffs, something they said they learned from this time around.

"Last year, we were in a good spot like this year, then we went on that road trip and fell on our face," Stars forward Tyler Seguin said. "I think everyone had the experience of how that felt last year and didn't want to do it twice and got the job done."

Video: Previewing the Stars vs. Predators First Round series

 

Game breakers

Predators: Forsberg isn't the Predators' leading scorer -- his 50 points (28 goals, 22 assists) rank third behind Johansen (64) and defenseman Roman Josi (56) -- but he is one of their most dynamic players. Forsberg, who had a few highlight-reel goals in the 2018 playoffs, is tough to defend and has 42 points (22 goals, 20 assists) in 55 NHL playoff games.

Stars: Forward Mats Zuccarello hasn't played a complete game with the Stars since they acquired him in a trade with the New York Rangers on Feb. 23 for a conditional second-round pick in the 2019 NHL Draft and a conditional third-round pick in the 2020 NHL Draft. But he looked good when he did play, scoring three points (one goal, two assists) in two games, and has 31 points (11 goals, 20 assists) in 60 NHL playoff games.

 

Goaltending

Predators: Pekka Rinne once again had a solid season, going 30-19-4 with a 2.42 goals-against average and .918 save percentage. He will be backed up by Juuse Saros, a reliable goalie who played in an NHL career-high 31 games to keep Rinne fresh this season, going 17-10-2 with a 2.62 GAA and .915 save percentage. 

Stars: The Stars have a great situation in net. Bishop, who is expected to start the series, went 27-15-2 with a 1.98 GAA, led the NHL in save percentage (.934) and had an NHL career-high seven shutouts. Khudobin went 16-17-5 with a 2.57 GAA, .923 save percentage and two shutouts. If there's a caveat, it's the health of Bishop, who has missed 16 games this season because of injuries.

 

Numbers to know

Predators: The Predators get scoring contributions from everyone, but their defensemen combined for 197 points (43 goals, 154 assists) this season. Josi finished second on Nashville with 56 points (15 goals, 41 assists), and Mattias Ekholm had an NHL career high in points (44) and assists (36).

Stars: The Stars have been good on special teams, finishing 11th in the League on the power play at 21 percent and fifth on the penalty kill at 82.8 percent. Dallas has also blocked 1,291 shots.

 

Injury update

Predators: Forward Rocco Grimaldi, who had 13 points (five goals, eight assists) in 53 games, missed the final six games because of an upper-body injury. 

Stars: Zuccarello missed the final two regular-season games for precautionary reasons. He was injured in his return after missing 17 games because of a broken right arm he sustained in his Stars debut on Feb. 24. However, he is expected to play in Game 1.

 

They said it

"We've always had good structure and [Stars coach Jim Montgomery] has always been confident. As a coach, when you're confident, the players usually feed off that and realize you can win every game. So they deserve a lot of credit for how the team continues to be consistent." -- Stars forward Andrew Cogliano

"There've been tough hockey games. Since Christmas, I've felt like we've been in tight hockey games and it's been intense and tough and a grind just to fight for that division and fight for our spot. I think it'll help us starting the playoffs that we didn't kick our feet up and relax for a week or two." -- Predators forward Colton Sissons

 

Will win if …

Predators: Their special teams are strong. The Predators were outstanding on the penalty kill, which ranked sixth in the NHL at 82.1 percent, and allowed two power-play goals in their final 12 games (30-for-32). But their power play that needs to improve after ranking last in the League at 12.9 percent (33-for-255).

Stars: They get scoring to go with their goaltending. Dallas was not the most productive team this season, scoring 2.55 goals per game (29th in the NHL). Bishop and Khudobin are great, but they could use some support from Seguin, who has 21 points (seven goals, 14 assists) in 49 career NHL playoff games, and Jamie Benn, who has 20 points (nine goals, 11 assists) in 19 career playoff games.

 

How they look

Predators projected lineup

Filip Forsberg -- Ryan Johansen -- Victor Arvidsson

Mikael Granlund -- Kyle Turris -- Craig Smith

Colton Sissons -- Nick Bonino -- Austin Watson

Brian Boyle -- Calle Jarnkrok -- Wayne Simmonds

Roman Josi -- Ryan Ellis

Mattias Ekholm -- P.K. Subban

Dan Hamhuis -- Dante Fabbro 

Pekka Rinne

Juuse Saros 

Scratched: Cody McLeod, Matt Irwin, Yannick Weber, Frederick Gaudreau, Rem Pitlick, Miikka Salomaki

 

Stars projected lineup

Mattias Janmark -- Tyler Seguin -- Alexander Radulov

Jamie Benn -- Roope Hintz -- Mats Zuccarello 

Andrew Cogliano -- Radek Faksa -- Blake Comeau 

Valeri Nichushkin -- Jason Spezza -- Tyler Pitlick

Esa Lindell -- John Klingberg

Miro Heiskanen -- Roman Polak

Taylor Fedun -- Ben Lovejoy

Ben Bishop

Anton Khudobin

Scratched: Julius Honka, Jamie Oleksiak, Justin Dowling

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Listen: NHL Fantasy on Ice playoff previews: Eastern Conference | Western Conference

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