The Nashville Predators visit the San Jose Sharks to open the Pacific Division finals Friday, April 29. Before covering the game, byteclay.com previews the series and predicts which team will advance to the Western Conference finals.
The photo list examines the three personnel units, coaching staffs and miscellaneous comparisons between the teams. The latter is wide-ranging enough to be the most significant, and is further examined below.
The two teams have met in the Stanley Cup playoffs twice before, in 2006 and 2007. Nashville dropped both series in five games but while both captains played in that last series, only three others—all with San Jose—that took part in either. Both teams also have a completely different coaching staff.
There is much of the culture remaining from those days and obviously key players to have gone through it. The Sharks certainly raised the bar of expectation higher with the back-to-back Western Conference finals appearances four years after the consecutive first-round wins over the Predators, but are also coming off just their second series victory after the 2011 Stanley Cup playoffs.
The experience of having a core that has reached the Western Conference finals does give San Jose an intangible edge, but recent history is more relevant. The only head-to-head win during the 2015-16 NHL season was after Nashville was already going to be the top wild card, and that came in a shootout.
Perhaps no factor matters more than health, but again neither team has an edge as both have clean bills per CSN Bay Area Insider Kevin Kurz in his preview Thursday. He correctly points out that the Predators are more likely to be less than 100 percent after a grueling seven-game series that just ended in Southern California Wednesday, but that brings up the rest-vs.-rust debate.
Kurz reported Tuesday that head coach Peter DeBoer was more that the week off would hurt the Sharks:
I think we’re too early in the playoffs for fatigue or anything. I think it’s going to be an advantage for whatever team we play just because they’ve been playing at a very high level all week.
San Jose is unlikely to be as sharp in the opener but should have more gas left in the tank should the series go six seven games. Predicting a Nashville win is not unexpected knowing both teams are very deserving of being among the final eight playing for the 2016 Stanley Cup and road teams have won 23 of 41 games during the 2015-16 NHL season plus one of two in the Pacific Division semifinals at SAP Center.
That leaves the Sharks to win four of the last six to reach the Western Conference finals, with up to three at home and at least as many on the road. That being said, they are far more likely to win the opener than the Predators are of winning a seventh game after another sixth two time zones away over 14 games in 27 days.
Nashville has to win three of the other five and cannot count on the three home games as being an advantage given San Jose’s road success…which also cannot be counted on because to a large degree the Stanley Cup playoffs are a new season. That must also be considered when looking at a team’s statistics, while small sample postseason sizes against different teams are even less relevant.
It comes down to personnel. The advantage there is small, but the Sharks should have just enough to get to a seventh game in which the Predators will no longer be able to keep up or battle through.