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Instant Analysis: Winter Classic Foes Meet First in Round One

Predators Won Season Series 3-2-0 with Two Overtime Victories; Series Starts in Nashville

by Thomas Willis, Brooks Bratten & Zach Gilchriest @PredsNHL / NashvillePredators.com

Central Division rivals, the Nashville Predators and Dallas Stars, will meet for the first time in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

The postseason begins on Wednesday, April 10, and the full schedule will be announced tomorrow morning, but we know Game 1 will be in Nashville soon. NashvillePredators.com already has full analysis of the Round One series, a look back at the five-game 2018-19 season series, X-factors and four things that will define the playoff matchup.

Season Series Refresh:

Nashville's regular season record against Dallas: 3-2-0

Scoring Leaders:

Goals: Nashville: Roman Josi (3); Dallas: Tyler Seguin (3)

Assists: Nashville: Roman Josi and Ryan Ellis (3); Dallas: Radek Faksa and Esa Lindell (4)

Points: Nashville: Roman Josi (6); Dallas: Esa Lindell (5)

Goaltender matchup:

Nashville:

Pekka Rinne: 1-2-0 record; GAA: 2.77; SV%: .916

Juuse Saros: 2-0-0 record; GAA: 2.96; SV%: .887

Dallas:

Ben Bishop*: 0-0-1 record; GAA: 4.80; SV%: .853

Anton Khudobin: 2-1-1 record; GAA: 2.01; SV%: .949

*Ben Bishop was out with injury for most of February

Video: Ekholm's OT winner helps Preds stay perfect on road

November 10, 2018, at American Airlines Center: Predators 5, Stars 4 (OT)

Nashville opened their regular-season meetings against Dallas by securing a hard-fought overtime victory over the Stars at American Airlines Center.

Scoring twice within the first two minutes of the third period thanks to Ryan Johansen and Yannick Weber, the Preds quickly erased a two-goal deficit and climbed back into the game. Another goal from the Stars midway through the third period put the Preds down by one again, but Preds Captain Roman Josi found the back of the net during a 6-on-4 advantage with just 43 seconds remaining in regulation, forcing the game into OT.

Just over two minutes into the extra session - and 41 seconds after leaving the penalty box - defenseman Mattias Ekholm caught a pass from Kyle Turris and buried the game-winner past Ben Bishop's left shoulder.

The victory stretched Nashville's road winning streak to eight - the third longest road winning streak to begin a season in NHL history. Juuse Saros made 20 saves, while Josi and Johansen collected two points apiece from a goal and assist each.

"We just don't give up," Ekholm said. "You can see it today, 3-1, they're close to getting 4-1. We just dig one out pretty much."

Video: NSH Recap: Predators can't solve Khudobin in 2-0 loss

December 27, 2018, at Bridgestone Arena: Stars 2, Predators 0

Nashville hosted Dallas in the first game back from the Christmas Break for the second meeting of the regular season against the Stars, this time falling, 2-0.

Anton Khudobin frustrated the Predators offense, stopping 49 shots and earning his first shutout of the season. Stars forward Tyler Pitlick - cousin of Preds forward Rem Pitlick - scored the game-winner at just 7:20 of the first period, and Mattias Janmark put another past Pekka Rinne midway through the second to seal the deal.

"We had good looks tonight; we put nearly every shot attempt on the net and not a lot of teams can do that," Preds defenseman P.K. Subban said. "For us, we would like to get more bodies in the paint and make it tougher on them, but you have to give them credit. They did a great job of boxing us out, but I thought we did a better job in front of our goaltender as well with boxing out and clearing pucks."

Video: NSH Recap: Jarnkrok scores in loss to Stars

February 2, 2019, at Bridgestone Arena: Stars 3, Predators 1

Nashville returned to Bridgestone Arena, but came up short against Dallas at the beginning of February, falling to the Stars 3-1 at home.

The Predators struck first with a goal from Calle Jarnkrok at 9:35 of the first period, but the Stars responded with a goal of their own just under two minutes later. In the third period, Dallas stung the Preds defense, scoring two goals just 43 seconds apart and securing their fourth win in a row.

Anton Khudobin performed well against Nashville yet again, stopping 38 shots.

"We played a pretty good first two periods," Preds Head Coach Peter Laviolette said. "I didn't like the way we started the third period. I thought that they came out, probably in the first five or six minutes, and just stayed in our end and outworked us a little bit, got some opportunities, some chances. I thought we corrected it for about 10 minutes after that. The game was going back and forth."

Video: Johansen scores OT winner for Preds against Stars

February 7, 2019, at Bridgestone Arena: Predators 3, Stars 2 (OT)

The Predators turned things around in their fourth regular-season showdown against Dallas, securing their second overtime win versus the Stars in front of a home crowd.

Nashville's first line - Ryan Johansen, Filip Forsberg and Viktor Arvidsson - found success against the Stars and Anton Khudobin, who stepped in for Ben Bishop after the Stars' starting goaltender was placed on Injured Reserve with an upper-body injury.

Craig Smith put the Preds on the board first, scoring off an odd bounce late in the first period. Arvidsson put the Preds ahead 2-1 at 8:41 of the third period, with linemates Forsberg and Johansen each earning assists.

Stars defenseman Taylor Fedun responded with a goal just a little over a minute later, forcing the game into overtime. But just 43 seconds into the extra time, Johansen and Arvidsson struck again, scoring the game-winner and earning two points apiece.

The result snapped Dallas' five-game win streak and extended Nashville's record against the Stars to 2-2-0.

"It's good to get a win just because they've beaten us the last two times," Preds Head Coach Peter Laviolette said. "In the end, we got ourselves a lead. They came back and tied it, then we pressed forward again and got ourselves a win in the overtime. I like the perseverance of our group tonight."

Forward Brian Boyle also made his Predators debut and former Predator Cody McLeod donned Gold once more after the pair were acquired in separate trades on Feb. 6.

Video: Josi scores twice in the 3rd as Predators beat Stars

February 19, 2019, at American Airlines Center: Predators 5, Stars 3

Nashville finished strong in their fifth and final regular-season meeting against Dallas, topping the Stars 5-3 at American Airlines Center.

Brian Boyle got things started for the Predators in the first period, tapping in a rebound from Roman Josi after finishing a big check on Tyler Seguin at the other end of the ice. The goal was Boyle's second with Nashville.

Rocco Grimaldi and Filip Forsberg added goals for Nashville in the second period, while Roman Josi scored a pair to wrap things up in the third period and finished the game with three points (2g-1a). Defenseman Ryan Ellis also tallied three assists, while Pekka Rinne made 36 saves for the Preds.

"We played a desperate team that played with a lot of edge and a lot of attitude tonight," Preds Head Coach Peter Laviolette said. "They were fighting for their lives. Like us, they've been losing some games and they've had some games not go their way, and that makes them on point trying to grab the two points. I was really happy with the response from the last game and the fact that we were able to come back from that game and put it away."

Series Analysis: Four Things

Finishing Strong:

One of the consistent themes throughout the season for the Predators was their inconsistency.

After a fast start, Nashville went through slow stretches at times as the campaign continued, including a period where the group was unable to string together three-consecutive victories for a month and a half. For a team as talented as Nashville, that wasn't easy to take inside the locker room.

However, a California road trip last month saw the Preds get back on an upward trajectory, and since a 3-1 victory in Los Angeles on March 14, Nashville has points in eight of 10 games with seven of those being wins.

Triumphs on the road in San Jose and Pittsburgh, as well as a comeback win over the Canucks on Thursday, stand out in that stretch as the Predators continue to find confidence in their overall game.

At this time of the year, teams not only want to be collecting points, they also prefer to play to their strengths and gain momentum as the postseason looms. More often than not as of late, the Preds have been doing both.

Lock It Down:

In a large sense, the Predators' dazzling record of 35-4-1 when scoring a game's first goal is a testament to their structure and team defense.

When the Preds are able to sit back, limit the opposition's high-danger scoring opportunities and counter attack, they're at their best. Put another way, Nashville won just 12 times when they didn't light the lamp first.

Nashville's competitive advantage starts in the net with reigning Vezina Trophy winner Pekka Rinne and Juuse Saros. Add in one of the NHL's best defensive units, including All-Star defensemen in Roman Josi and P.K. Subban, and looking to defense first and exhibiting patience makes sense.

"That's exactly our message going into the third, go out and play our game and do the little things right," Preds center Ryan Johansen said following a win over the Sabres on April 2. "Do it hard and execute our details well, and the game will take care of itself and that's how it ended up going."

The return of Austin Watson near the end of the regular season has also aided the Predators forward units as the first lines of defense. With the Preds and Stars both in the NHL's Top Five for fewest goals allowed, each block, each poke check and each defensive stop mean that much more.

Stars Starter:

Who will get the nod in net for Dallas to start the series - Ben Bishop or Anton Khudobin?

Bishop seems like he'd be the obvious choice, and his numbers speak for themselves. After a shutout in game No. 82, the 6-foot-7 goaltender finished first in the League in save percentage at a .934 mark and second among his peers with a 1.98 goals-against average. Those are impressive numbers the Predators would have to make a dent in to be successful.

However, Bishop only saw action in one of the five meetings this season between the Preds and Stars. The other four outings saw Anton Khudobin mind the crease, and through those first two games, the netminder only allowed one puck to get past him, including a 49-save shutout in Nashville two days after Christmas.

No matter who the Dallas coaching staff elects to go with in Game 1, there will be a formidable foe waiting if the first choice falters at any point.

Defensive Catalysts:

During Head Coach Jim Montgomery's first season behind the bench, a few noticeable differences have taken place.

For one, the Stars made the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time since 2016, and one of the paramount reasons for that has been an improvement on the defensive side of the puck. Dallas only allowed 200 goals in total this season and averaged just 2.44 goals-against per game, both marks good for second in the NHL.

Nashville did find offensive success against the Stars this season - they scored five goals each in two of the five meetings with Dallas - but a greater attention to detail in their own zone has worked well enough to earn the Stars a postseason berth.

The Predators will need to find production throughout their lineup, especially against a team with the capability to shut down top players.

X-Factors: Special Teams Advantage (Dallas) and Roster Additions (Nashville)

Put simply, the special teams advantage sides with Dallas. The Stars hold the NHL's 10th ranked power play unit at 21 percent and a Top Five penalty kill at 83 percent.

While the Predators can counter with a sixth ranked penalty kill - just one percentage point off at 82 percent, it's the 30th-ranked power play (13 percent) that compares poorly to the Stars' man-advantage units. Nashville scored a single power-play goal within the teams' season series when Roman Josi tied the game in the final minute - and with the goalie pulled - in the clubs' first meeting of the season.

Dallas' team defense has become more well rounded under first-year Head Coach Jim Montgomery, but the Stars still boast players like Tyler Seguin, Jamie Benn, Alex Radulov, John Klingberg and trade-deadline pickup Mats Zuccarello across their PP units. Offensive talent like that helped Dallas score more than 40 power-play goals during the regular season.

Can the Stars swing a playoff game or two with their special teams edge? With two of Nashville's wins over the Stars coming in overtime during the regular season, Dallas will be hoping that this time around, they can score that extra goal and turn a contest in their favor.

Not one to ignore a weakness for his club, Predators General Manager David Poile has been bringing veteran, proven pieces to his roster over the last several months with the goal of improving the Preds' power play and offense as whole.

Three new faces have been added to the Nashville power play units via three separate deals. Poile brought in 6-foot-6 Brian Boyle and power-play specialist Wayne Simmonds in trades with New Jersey and Philadelphia, respectively. The GM also flipped Kevin Fiala for Mikael Granlund in a deal with the Minnesota Wild.

While Boyle has picked up five goals since coming to Nashville (and served as quite the asset as a screen in front of the opposition's net), Simmonds and Granlund have scored just once apiece since joining the Predators. Both Simmonds and Granlund have extensive playoff experience, however, and if either one of them starts to chip in more goals (especially on the power play), they could turn the series for Nashville.

Boyle and Simmonds have a combined 153 playoff games between them, and traditionally, the gritty, drive-to-the-net style they both play excels in postseason hockey. Is that the case again this year? Poile and the Preds are banking on yes.

History:

The Predators and Stars have never met in the postseason before. In 2004, Alex Radulov was drafted by the Predators in the first round. He signed a five-year deal with the Stars in 2017. Rem Pitlick's cousin, Tyler, plays for the Stars. Preds defenseman Dan Hamhuis was drafted by Nashville in 2001, played two seasons in Dallas (2016-18) and returned to the Predators for the 2018-19 campaign. 

The 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs schedule will be released on Sunday morning at 9 a.m. (CT).

Games 1, 2, 5* and 7* (*if necessary) will be played at Bridgestone Arena.

For the latest playoff info, go NashvillePredators.com/playoffs to see details on watch parties, plaza parties, giveaways, postseason news, highlights and a #StandWithUs social media toolkit.

Authors: Brooks Bratten, Zach Gilchriest and Thomas Willis

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