For the second consecutive season, the Nashville Predators have advanced to Round Two of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, and this year's installment begins tonight in St. Louis with Game One. It's the first-ever postseason meeting between the Preds and the Blues; the Central Division foes saw each other five times during the regular season with Nashville holding a 3-2-0 record.
The Predators are coming off a sweep of the Chicago Blackhawks in Round One, outscoring their opponent 13-3 in the four games. The Blues took down the Minnesota Wild in Round One, winning that series by a 4-1 tally.
After almost a week between games for the Preds, they're ready to face St. Louis with plenty more to prove.
"We're happy with handling Chicago the way we did and getting results in four games, but that doesn't mean anything now," center Ryan Johansen said. "We need to find ways to keep winning hockey games and moving forward. There's nothing we're satisfied with right now and we've still got a lot to prove."
The Preds were led offensively in the First Round by their top line - just as they were in the regular season - as Johansen, Filip Forsberg and Viktor Arvidsson tallied a combined 15 points through four games. Johansen finished the first series with one goal and six points, while Forsberg had five points to Arvidsson's four. Both Forsberg and Arvidsson scored twice in four games; Roman Josi, Kevin Fiala and Colton Sissons have also found the back of the net twice, while Ryan Ellis has earned four points. Pekka Rinne has been stellar thus far for Nashville, compiling a 0.70 goals-against average and a .976 save percentage through four games.
Jaden Schwartz has tallied five points in five games for the Blues, followed by Alexander Steen with four. Schwartz, Steen and Joel Edmundson have each scored twice, and sniper Vladimir Tarasenko got his first goal of the series in Game Five. Center Paul Stastny, who returned from injury in Game Five, also found the back of the net. Goaltender Jake Allen was equally impressive for the Blues, posting a 1.47 goals-against average and a .956 save percentage in five games.
Video: Preds are at Scottrade Center for Game 1 of Round 2
As the Preds venture into Round Two against the Blues, here are three things to watch for:
This series very well could come down to which goaltender can make more key saves at important moments. Both starting netminders - Pekka Rinne and Jake Allen - have shown a knack for doing so thus far in these playoffs.
Rinne leads the League in goals-against average (0.70), save percentage (.976) and shutouts (2), doing so in just four games. Allen is right behind Rinne in goals-against average (1.47) and save percentage (.956), including a 51-save performance in Game One for St. Louis against Minnesota.
Rinne couldn't have started Round One any better - posting back-to-back shutouts in Chicago - and another strong performance on the road could set the Preds up perfectly to come home with at least one notch in the win column.
Video: Rinne, Forsberg, Sissons and Josi talk Game One
Predators Head Coach Peter Laviolette says it every time his team and the Blues get together: "It's going to be a heavy game."
So what exactly does that mean? For one, just what it sounds like. Only three players on the St. Louis roster are listed under six-feet tall and only seven weigh less than 200 pounds, plus, each of their top defensemen stand at least 6-foot-2. The plan is often to try and wear the opponent down physically, and the Predators will need to find ways to counteract that size with their speed.
"They play a little bit heavier too," defenseman Mattias Ekholm said. "They dump pucks and chip pucks in, they try to use their body down low and we've just got to be able to manage that. We'll try to use our speed against that and maybe try to catch them a little bit flat-footed. We have a lot of speedy guys in this lineup, so I think it's going to be a great matchup. As long as we play the same way we did in Round One, I think we've got a great chance."
Video: Preds expect physical, heavy series vs. rival
Adapt and Survive:
No matter who the opponent, the Predators have been able to adapt to different styles, while still sticking to the key elements of their own game. Coach Laviolette said Nashville didn't have to change too much about their plan against Chicago, but they're still always on the lookout for tweaks. Game One tonight against St. Louis will give Laviolette and his staff plenty to look at as far as how the Blues want to play, and what the Preds may need to do to counter whatever comes their way.
"I think we've done a pretty good job of adjusting inside of our division to the team that we're playing," Laviolette said. "Some of them are a little bit faster with puck movement, some of them are heavy, and some of them combine both. I think our guys do a pretty good job of figuring out how we need to play.
Preds Playoff Info:
For information on Watch Parties, Preds Approved viewing locations and everything else you need to know about the Predators in the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs, visit www.nashvillepredators.com/playoffs.
Take It In:
Game One from the Scottrade Center comes with a 7 p.m. CT start time. All postseason games are now exclusively on national television, with tonight's game being shown on NBCSN. Pregame coverage on 102.5 The Game and the Predators Radio Network begins at 6 p.m. CT.