The playoff match-ups are set and the Nasvhille Predators are prepared to host the Sharks in the opening round of the 2006 Playoffs Presented by Intersil. Nashville General Manager David Poile and his crew have quietly built one of the stronger clubs in the Western Conference since beginning as an expansion team in 1998.
The Predators are led by head coach Barry Trotz, one of the more organized and well prepared bench bosses in the league. His club always comes to play and they follow the lead of the franchise’s only coach. The Predators broke their teeth in the 2004 postseason and have now reached the playoffs the past two seasons. They have been one the Western Conference’s best teams all year and the Sharks will have their work cut out for them.
Holding home ice will be a benefit to the Predators as they finished the season with the best home record in the League (32-8-1), while their road record was a respectable 0.500 winning percentage.
Special teams also looks to be a determining factor in the series with the Preds finishing in the top 10 in power play percentage (18.4 percent), just ahead of the Sharks (18.2 percent). And with the fifth ranked penalty kill in the League (84.6 percent), the Sharks cannot overlook a Nashville team that has had winning streaks of six and five games this season.
These two teams have crossed paths four times this season, each ending in one goal affairs. Nashville took the first two games from Team Teal, but the Sharks got revenge in their final two meetings when they defeated the Predators twice in overtime.
Like the Sharks, the Predators are hot, having won six straight. When Tomas Vokoun went down with a season-ending injury, Chris Mason stepped in and has won those six contests. The Sharks will respect Mason’s play in Vokoun’s absence and will not take him lightly. Just one year ago, Khabibulin and Kirpursoff had little playoff experience and they both ended up leading their teams to the finals.
“I don’t think the inexperience matters,” said Sharks Head Coach Ron Wilson. “They don’t change the puck and guys don’t shoot it harder. He is a good goalie and is hot at the right time.”
Up front for Nashville is Paul Kariya, a former rival from his days with the Ducks. He will now get a chance to play Team Teal in a playoff series, after posting 85 points (31 goals, 54 assists) in 82 career games played against San Jose.
Another Predator forward the Sharks have had trouble with in the past is Steve Sullivan. Sullivan is fast, and like Karyiya, very quick with the puck. Sharks fans might remember Sullivan as the one who posted a hat trick against the Sharks in his very first game as with Nashville.
While the Sharks and the Predators have noticeably different playing styles, there are still parallels between the two teams.
“They have great speed and are fairly youthful like us,” said Sharks center Alyn McCauley. “They have a good power play and the control the puck well. They are relentless on the fore-check and are exciting to watch, but very hard to play against. No one ever gives an inch from their first line to their fourth line. Even in games when it seems they are out of it, they can come back.”
On the blueline, the Predators have on of the NHL’s leading scoring defensemen in Kimmo Timonen. The big defenseman posted 50 points (11 goals, 39 assists) in 79 games for the Predators this season. They also boast defensemen Danny Markov, known for his shot blocking ability, as well as Brendan Witt, the late season acquisition who brings a physical presence to the Nahsville blueline.
Nashville gets production from up and down their lineup and the Sharks will have to do the same to win the series.
“You need goals and contributions from everybody,” said McCauley. “My line, Marcel’s line, we need to score from time to time. If we can get contributions from everyone, we can go a long way.”
Despite all of Nashville’s skill, the Sharks will have to focus more on what they need to do and avoid beating themselves by focusing solely on what the other team is doing. With all that has been swirling in the media as of late since Vokoun went down, the Nashville Predators are an extremely strong team that has been hot as of late. This series should shape up to be a great one for all NHL fans to watch.
DRAFT DRAWING The National Hockey League Draft Drawing, a weighted lottery system to determine the order of selection for the first 14 picks of the 2006 Entry Draft, will take place Thursday, April 20, at 9 p.m. PST, at the NHL’s New York office.
The Draft Drawing will involve clubs that did not qualify for this season’s Stanley Cup Playoffs. The Draft Drawing result does not affect the draft order for the remainder of the first round and rounds two through seven.
The club selected in the Draft Drawing may not move up more than four positions in the draft order. Thus the only clubs with the opportunity to receive the first overall selection are the five clubs with the lowest regular-season point totals. No club can move down more than one position as a result of the Draft Drawing.
Under the weighted lottery system, the club with the fewest regular-season points, the St. Louis Blues, will have the greatest chance (25%) of winning the Draft Drawing and will pick no lower than second at the 2006 Entry Draft.