The Nashville Predators have been consistent postseason participants, but winning a series for the first time in franchise history was a big step forward in 2011. There were some key additions during this regular season, and, as a result, the Predators took the next step and became a legitimate Stanley Cup contender.
Now all that is left is winning the thing.
The Big Why: Everything with Nashville starts with their own version of a "Big Three" -- goaltender Pekka Rinne plus defensemen Shea Weber and Ryan Suter. No other team in the League can match Nashville's combo of No. 1 goaltender and top two defensemen. They are the backbone of an elite goal-prevention outfit.
Defense - NSH
GOALS: 19 | ASST: 30 | PTS: 49
SOG: 230 | +/-: 21
They will have a little help in that department, and some added playoff experience with the addition of veteran Hal Gill. There is also depth on defense -- Nashville has at least nine defensemen that coach Barry Trotz would feel comfortable playing if needed.
The Big Uh-Oh: The biggest issue in years past for Nashville has been at the other end of the ice. The Predators did a great job of stifling the Sedin twins and holding the Vancouver Canucks to just 14 goals in six games during the second round last season. Nashville didn't score nearly enough to upset the Cancuks, producing more than two goals only once during the series.
That said, scoring is less of an issue in Smashville. The Predators were No. 21 during the regular season in goals last year, but improved to No. 9 during the 2011-12 campaign. The Predators have 10 guys with at least 13 goals this season, and there is plenty of depth and variety at forward for Trotz to choose from.
Right Wing - NSH
GOALS: 27 | ASST: 16 | PTS: 43
SOG: 230 | +/-: 9
Patric Hornqvist and Mike Fisher
combined for 50 goals. Paul Gaustad
was a nice addition to help win faceoffs and add some offense from the bottom six. The Kostitsyn brothers are back together, and both have played well in Nashville.
Final Argument: Nashville can stop teams from scoring. The Predators have proven they can score goals ... in the regular season. They'll need to do so in the postseason.
Then there is the wild card -- Alexander Radulov. Nashville might have been one gamebreaker short despite all of its depth, but not anymore. Radulov was a solid, young player with potential a few years ago, but now he's matured. He could be the final piece for a team capable of winning the Stanley Cup.