|THE SKINNY |
Forget the 24-point difference in the regular-season standings, the top-seeded Detroit Red Wings surely realize they will have their hands full when No. 8 Nashville comes calling later this week. The teams played eight times in the regular season, and Nashville took three of those contests and forced two more into overtime before losing.
But those results don't mean there aren't differences between the teams. Detroit is once again the class of the NHL, finishing with a League-high 115 points to claim yet another Presidents' Trophy, its fourth since the turn of the century.
Nashville, at 41-32-9, had to go 6-3-1 over its last 10 games just to hold off three other teams for the final spot in the West.
The veteran-laden Red Wings feature 10 players with at least 10 goals and 11 players with at least 35 points. Star forwards Pavel Datsyuk (97 points), and Henrik Zetterberg (92) both approached the 100-point mark. Defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom again led the League's defensemen in scoring, tallying 70 points.
”I don't buy that for a second. Everyone is talking about San Jose and Anaheim, etc. I don't think anybody is talking about us at all.'' – Red Wings coach Mike Babcock, when asked if his team should be favored to win the Stanley Cup. Nashville, meanwhile, is a younger, less-experienced team. But it,
too, has diversified scoring, with 10 players scoring 10 or more goals and nine reaching at least 30 points. Yet the Predators rely heavily on an established veteran core up front. J.P Dumont, Jason Arnott and Martin Erat are three of the team's four 20-goal scorers. They are joined by dynamic second-year winger Alexander Radulov, who banged home 26 goals.
Nashville's offense-by-committee approach was on full display in the regular-season series against Detroit. Erat and Radulov shared top-scoring honors with four goals apiece, but eight other players scored in the series.
Perhaps the most striking difference between the clubs is in goal. Nashville features a pair of young netminders in Dan Ellis and Chris Mason, who have a total of five playoff games between them, all by Mason. Detroit, by contrast, features the veteran duo of Dominik Hasek, 43, and Chris Osgood, 35. Combined, those two have appeared in 202 postseason games.
”When you look at what happened at the start of the season, when they had all these top players leaving the team, a lot of people were saying, 'Hey, it's going to be a tough year for them.' ...'' – Minnesota Wild coach Jacques Lemaire, on Predators coach Barry Trotz. Because of these factors, the time is now for the experienced Wings, who have suffered too many playoff disappointments since winning back-to-back Cups in the late '90s and another in 2002. Nashville, meanwhile, is a rebuilding team playing with house money this postseason.
And if Detroit knows anything, it knows that makes for a dangerous first-round matchup for the favorite.
Detroit will win if -- It continues to do what it has done all season. This team finished with 115 points for a reason. It is perhaps the most balanced and deepest team in the tournament. If the Red Wings play the aggressive, puck-possession game coach Mike Babcock preaches, Detroit should have too much firepower for the Preds to handle.
Nashville will win if -- The goaltenders get hot. Ellis, especially, has
shown the ability to steal games. Two weeks ago he posted three straight regulation shutouts, including one against Detroit that ended in an overtime loss. Nashville also needs to be physical without taking penalties. Detroit's power play can be scary good, as Nashville has learned this year.