The Nashville Predators are about to embark into uncharted territory as they prepare to meet the Vancouver Canucks in the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs. The Predators won their first round series against the Anaheim Ducks by a 4-2 count and have been off since Easter Sunday. The Canucks were taken to overtime of the seventh game of their series against the Chicago Blackhawks before winning 2-1.
The Canucks were the President’s Trophy winner, with 54 victories and 117 points, and occupied the number one seed in the Western Conference for much of the season. By contrast, the Predators were unsure of their final seed until the last day of the season, where a final game loss dropped them to the fifth seed with 44 victories and 99 points. The Predators spent all of the latter part of the season first fighting for a playoff spot and then for the highest seeding they could obtain.
The Canucks boast Daniel Sedin, who won the Art Ross Trophy as the NHL scoring leader. D. Sedin had 104 points (41G-63A) in the regular season.
The Predators leading scorer? Both Marty Erat (17G-33A) and Sergei Kostitsyn (23G-27A) had 50 points.
Quite a contrast between the teams, eh?
So how are the Predators going to continue to make history and vanquish the Cancukleheads?
Here are the keys to this series for the Predators:
Make Bobby Feel Like A Lu-ser
When the Canucks jumped out to a 3-0 series lead over the Blackhawks, Canucks netminder Roberto Luongo looked completely in control of his game. He was tracking the puck well, was positionally sound, and was making stops without giving up rebounds. By the start of Game 7, Bobby Lu had more nervous tics than a drawer full of cheap watches and was revealed to be of Italian heritage because he was “fra-gil-e”. The Predators need to implement their version of shock and awe and turn Bobby Lu into a quivering mass of luserliciousness. How? Shoot the puck. Early, often, and from all angles. Make Bobby luse his confidence. Make him see Predators crashing his crease even in his dreams. The Predators play the type of game that can make Bobby luse his his sanity: gritty, drivng to the net with lots of traffic hockey. They are going to have to do that all series.
Know This Guy Is Not On Your Roster
Which guy? This one:
He is the 800 pound gorilla that was sitting on the bench with “Never Won A Playoff Series” on the back of his jersey. This team has moved into new territory with their series win over the Ducks. It is time for the Predators to play relaxed but focused hockey. The Predators need to play Predator hockey- tough defense; outstanding goaltending; and opportunistic offense. The onus of never winning a series has been vanquished, and the feeling has got to great for the Predators. They cannot rest on the series win against the Ducks, and I don’t think they will. They cannot, however, grip their sticks too tightly and play in awe of the Canucks. Play your game, boys, and this series is yours for the taking.
Make Them Cough Up A Hairball, uh, Puck
Predator fans know that former Predator defenseman Dan Hamhuis can be counted on to cough up the puck in his own zone at least once a game. The Predators forecheck is going to have to pressure the Canucks D all series. Their speed and aggression should create numerous turnovers. Do this and capitalize on those mistakes and Luongo will turn into a wide-eyed, shell shocked goalie.
3 And 4 Have to Score
The Predators got excellent all around play and scoring from their third and fourth lines in the Ducks series. This has to continue for the Predators to be victorious against the Canucks. The play of Jordin Tootoo, Nick Spaling, and Steve Sullivan was a difference maker against the Ducks, and it will have to be again the Canucks. In particular, the line of Sullivan, Blake Geoffrion, and J.P. Dumont on the fourth line presented serious match up problems for the Ducks. I expect the return of Marty Erat will move Matt Halischuk down to the fourth line, and this line needs to effectively use their speed and skill against the Canucks third D pair. If the third and fourth lines can continue to contribute, this will bode well for the Predators chances.
Remember, They Are Eh-Holes
The expectations of the Canucks by their fans are that they will bring the Cup back to their barn. Pressure? Out the roof. Jump on the Canucks early and often, and their crowd will turn against them. The Canucks have been built up as the best hope in years to bring the Cup back to Canada, and that expectation sits on their shoulders like, well, this guy:
Nice to see him sitting on the other team’s bench, eh? Exploit the pressure the Canucks feel as a team and the expectations that the fans have placed on them. Play your game with a sense of joy and with a sense of purpose. The Canucks are playing with a weight that the Predators do not have, and this is to the Predators advantage. Make the pressure palpable. Make this big guy take up more space on the bench. As he starts to take up more space, the advantage is yours. Get early leads in the game, get an early series lead, and the Canucks will not see him on their bench. He will be on their backs.
Make The Fail Whale Real
The talented Rachel Addison created this logo, a variant of the Twitter “Fail Whale”:
The Predators have to create doubt in the minds of the Canucks. Do this by playing tough hockey and scoring early and often against the Canucks. Shut down the high flying Vancouver offensive machine and frustrate them. That doubt and frustration will spawn an oppressive Orca that will work against the Canucks throughout the series. And when this happens, this series will swing to the Predators.
There you have it. The keys to a Predators series victory against the Canucks. You have made history this season, boys, by getting to the second round.
Time to make some more history.
About the Author: A native Nashvillian that grew up with minor league hockey, I'm now a devoted Predators fan and NHL follower. I have had the privilege of allowing my children to grow up watching the Predators and seeing the joy on their face when they are at a game. By day, I am a partner in an independent investment management company in the Nashville area. I played collegiate football and graduated from the University of South Carolina and graduated from the LSU graduate School of Banking. So yes, there are real true southern hockey fans in these non-traditional markets.