Game One: Nashville Predators vs. San Jose (Series Tied 0-0)
9:30 P.M. (CT) | SAP Center
TV: NBCSN | Radio: 102.5 The Game
For the third time in franchise history, the Nashville Predators have made it to the Second Round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. That series begins tonight in San Jose when the Preds and Sharks get together at the SAP Center for Game One.
It's a quick turnaround for the Preds; Nashville beat the Anaheim Ducks 2-1 in Game Seven of their First Round series on Wednesday night. The Sharks have been off since last Friday when they topped the Los Angeles Kings in Game Five to take the series 4-1.
“It was good to see the guys coming down this morning for breakfast and having the mindset already of refocusing on our next opponent,” center Ryan Johansen said Thursday before the Preds departed Anaheim for San Jose. “We haven’t achieved anything yet. We beat a very good hockey team, but now it’s all about refocusing and getting our preparations ready to take on the San Jose Sharks.”
The Preds were led in scoring during their series with Anaheim by Captain Shea Weber and forward Colin Wilson, who each chipped in five points apiece (2g-3a). Nashville was led in goals by Mattias Ekholm, James Neal, Weber and Wilson, all with two each. Goaltender Pekka Rinne stopped 62-of-64 shots in the final two games to help lead the team to victory. On special teams, Nashville was 1-of-26 (3.8 percent) on the power play and 21-for-25 (84 percent) on the penalty kill.
Rinne enters the Second Round series against the Sharks with sterling regular-season numbers against them, posting a 10-5-4 record with a .945 save percentage and a 1.80 goals-against average. At the SAP Center, he has a 4-3-2 record with a 1.64 goals-against average and a .948 save percentage. Those numbers are amongst the best he has against any opponent in his career.
This series between the Preds and Sharks features two of the top point producers from the 2012 NHL Draft. Filip Forsberg, drafted 11th overall by Washington, ranks second, while Tomas Hertl, taken 17th overall by San Jose, ranks fourth. Of the players from the Top Five in scoring from that class, Forsberg and Hertl are the only remaining who are currently competing in the playoffs.
Round Two against the Sharks will feature three of the top regular-season goal-scoring defensemen over the last two seasons between the clubs. Brent Burns is tied for first over that span with 44 goals for San Jose, while Weber is fifth with 35 goals and Roman Josi is eighth with 29 tallies. Over that same span of time, Burns ranks second among defensemen in points (44g-91a-135pts), while Josi ranks fourth (29g-87a-116pts).
Burns leads the Sharks in points during these playoffs with eight, including two goals. Joe Pavelski has found the back of the net five times, while Joonas Donskoi has tallied twice. Logan Couture has one goal and six points in five games; Patrick Marleau and former Pred Joel Ward have four points apiece. Goaltender Martin Jones is 4-1 with a .912 save percentage.
It will be the third meeting in the postseason between the two clubs. Nashville played San Jose in the Western Conference Quarterfinals in 2006 and 2007, losing each series in five games.
Four current members of the Predators have previously skated in a playoff series against the San Jose Sharks: Barret Jackman in 2012 with St. Louis (won series), Weber in 2006 and 2007 with Nashville (lost both series), Eric Nystrom in 2008 with Calgary (lost series) and Mike Ribeiro in 2008 with Dallas (won series). Of those four players, Weber has five points in his nine career playoff games against the Sharks (2g-3a) and Ribeiro has six points (1g-5a) in six games, including the secondary assist in the series-clinching, quadruple overtime goal by Dallas in Game Six of the 2008 Western Conference Semifinals.
During the 2015-16 regular season, the two clubs played three times, twice in Nashville, once in San Jose, with the Predators claiming two victories. San Jose's lone win came via a shootout on a goal by Couture. Five different players co-led the series in scoring with three points (Calle Jarnkrok, Weber, Forsberg, Ribeiro and Johansen), while Jarnkrok led the team with three goals. Rinne started two of the three contests and posted a 2-0-0 record with a 1.50 goals-against average and a .941 save percentage. The team went 0-for-6 on the power play and killed 8-of-10 Sharks penalties.
Games One and Two of the series begin in San Jose before shifting to Nashville for Game Three on Tuesday night.
Behind Enemy Lines, Again:
Bridgestone Arena, in Nashville, is known throughout the NHL as being one of the loudest and most difficult buildings for opposing teams to skate in. Count the SAP Center in San Jose, the site of tonight’s Game One, Second Round matchup between the Nashville Predators and the San Jose Sharks, as another one of those locations.
The noise within the building will be just one of the new challenges facing the Preds as they begin their series tonight with the Sharks, two days after defeating Anaheim in Game Seven, also on the road. While the Predators have had only one day in between games, the Sharks have been off since last Friday after ousting the Los Angeles Kings in five games.
Preds Head Coach Peter Laviolette isn’t quite sure what to expect in terms of rest with his team compared to San Jose, something he’ll wait to evaluate when the puck drops after 9:30 p.m. (CT).
“I would say teams that have had time off, sometimes they come out slow and sometimes the rest has done them well and they come out firing because they’re re-energized,” Laviolette said. “I would say teams that finish and have to start right away with not much rest, sometimes they seem weary and sometimes they’re ready to go. We won’t know until we get to the game, and we’ll go from there. I think it works both ways for both teams. You don’t know what you have until you start playing.”
The Preds do know they’ll have to deal with a loud venue, something veteran defenseman Barret Jackman has experienced in the postseason before as a member of the St. Louis Blues.
“This building is the loudest I think I’ve ever played in; I’ve played here a couple times in the playoffs, and I think the acoustics and the energy of the building is deafening,” Jackman said. “We have to be ready to make smart decisions and know what we’re doing with pucks before we get it because communication is going to be tough.”
That awareness will be key when dealing with San Jose’s forward group, including Joe Pavelski and Joe Thornton, two constants for the Sharks for the last decade.
“Joe Thornton is going to be looking for Pavelski, and they have great chemistry,” forward James Neal said. “They work off each other and find open spots in the offensive zone, so we have to be physical on those guys. We have to be hard on them, don’t give them time and space.”
“They’re a team that’s been together for a long time,” Jackman said. “I think they have three outstanding lines that are very dangerous, and even their fourth line has some skill and some finishers. You can’t let your guard down, and you have to be hard on all four lines and not take anything for granted.”
The Predators will find out soon enough what will transpire in Game One, their first trip to Round Two since 2012, but the club found a way to get it done in the First Round against the Ducks. They’re hoping for more of the same on the West Coast.
“It was nice to be in California and stay in the same time zone, get our rest and focus on a new team,” Neal said. “I don’t know what’s better, but for us, it’s a mindset to focus on ourselves and do what we have to do to prepare for a new series. Don’t look past Game One, focus on having a good start, everyone having a first good shift, and we’ll go from there.”
The Preds recalled forward Pontus Aberg from AHL Milwaukee on Friday morning. Forward Craig Smith did not participate in the Preds morning skate today and was given a maintenance day.