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Five Things for the Predators in Round Two

Is Dominant First Line Enough for Preds to Overcome Blues? What About Return of Colin Wilson?

by John Glennon @glennonsports / glennonsports@gmail.com

After co-existing for the past 18 seasons in the same division, the Predators and St. Louis Blues will finally meet in the postseason starting on Wednesday.

The Predators have reached the Second Round of the playoffs for the fourth time in the last seven years, but will be seeking a first-ever trip to the Western Conference Final. The Blues, meanwhile, will be looking to advance to the Western Conference Final for the second-straight year.

What should fans be watching for as the series gets underway?

Here are five big factors to consider:

Video: Arvidsson taps in Forsberg's feed for the only goal

First-line fury - The Predators haven't always had the advantage of a dominant offensive first line over the years, but the trio of Viktor Arvidsson, Ryan Johansen and Filip Forsberg has gradually turned into one this season.

Arvidsson and Forsberg both topped the 30-goal mark, while Johansen collected 47 assists, sixth-best among NHL centers. The trio overcame strong defensive efforts in the opening round to rack up 15 points (5g-10a) in just four games.

All three members of the top line were also effective against St. Louis this year - even if they weren't always together. Forsberg collected five points (2g-3a) in five games versus the Blues, followed by Johansen (2g-2a, 5 gp) and Arvidsson (1g-2a, 5 gp).

In a series that is likely to feature some low-scoring contests, the ability of one team's top line to overcome an opponent's best checking line - and its best defensemen - can make all the difference.

"(St. Louis goalie Jake Allen) has done a terrific job and they're playing well in front of him," Johansen said. "We have to find a way to get pucks past him, but that will be a good challenge for us. We have lots of talent here, so hopefully we can find a way to get it done."

Smokin' hot St. Louis - The Predators enter this series with plenty of momentum after their First-Round sweep, but the Blues have been scorching hot for quite some time now.

After Mike Yeo took over from Ken Hitchcock as the Blues' coach on Feb. 1, St. Louis posted a 22-8-2 regular-season record, tied with Washington for the NHL's best. One of the most amazing stats during that stretch: The Blues allowed just 60 goals in those 32 contests (1.88 per game). In addition, St. Louis posted a penalty-killing success rate of nearly 89 percent in those 32 games, which was the best in the NHL.

"I read the numbers like you guys do," Predators Head Coach Peter Laviolette said. "Since Feb. 1, they've been the best team in the NHL… It's been a good response (to the coaching change) by their club and they're really playing well now."

Video: NSH@BUF: Wilson scores PPG on Johansen's nifty pass

Colin's comeback - In 20 playoff games during the 2014-15 and 2015-16 seasons, Predators forward Colin Wilson piled up a very impressive 18 points, earning the nickname "Playoff Colin Wilson" along the way. His 10 goals during those two playoff appearances led the Predators, as did his shooting percentage of 21.7 percent.

So the Predators would be glad to welcome back Wilson, who missed the team's First-Round series because of a lower-body injury. He's been a regular practice participant for the last few days.

"He's a big forward and he had a good year for us," Laviolette said. "He's big, strong and can possess the puck. He skates well, is capable of playing offense and can play a 200-foot game. When it comes time for him to be back in the lineup, our guys will be excited."

The Blues got a similar boost from the return of top-line center Paul Stastny, who returned from a 14-game absence and scored a goal in St. Louis' series-clinching win over Minnesota.

Big Blues - Expect this series to be a very physical challenge for the Predators, especially for Nashville's forwards. The Blues' top-four defensemen stack up like this: 6-foot-4, 221-pound Jay Bouwmeester; 6-foot-4, 220-pound Joel Edmundson; 6-foot-6, 226-pound Colton Parayko; and 6-foot-3, 225-pound Alex Pietrangelo.

Edmundson is likely the biggest hitter among the bunch, but all have the ability to put the body on Nashville's attackers. Up front, look for the Blues' Ryan Reaves - who averaged 3.4 hits in St. Louis' first five playoff games - to try to leave a mark on the Predators.

"I guess just from prior experience, they usually play a pretty heavy game, pretty physical," Preds forward Colton Sissons said. "They have some bigger bodies that like to be involved in that side of the game. So think there will be a couple more hits and maybe a little more nasty kind of play."

Pekka's puck-playing - Predators goalie Pekka Rinne is one of the NHL's better puck-playing goalies, and that could turn into a big advantage for Nashville.

St. Louis isn't necessarily a big puck-possession team, often choosing instead to flip the puck into the opposition zone and follow up with a forecheck. But Rinne often short-circuits enemy forechecking by getting to loose pucks and distributing quick passes to defensemen.

"They try to put a lot of pucks behind our `D'" Rinne said of the Blues. "So obviously if I can help our `D' and play the puck first, that's something I'm going to try to do."

Rinne has also been the League's best goaltender so far in the playoffs, posting a pair of shutouts, a .976 save percentage and a 0.70 goals-against average in four contests. If he can play anywhere near that level in this series, he should match the edge Allen gave the Blues against the Wild. Allen produced a .956 save percentage and 1.47 goals-against average in the First-Round series.

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