On Wednesday night, April 27, 2016 the Nashville Predators defeated the Anaheim Ducks by a final score of 2-1. By virtue of the victory in game seven of the first round Stanley Cup playoff matchup, the Predators will now face the San Jose Sharks in the next round. In their opening round matchup, the Sharks defeated the Los Angeles Kings in five games.
The other Western Conference semifinal matchup will feature the Dallas Stars and St Louis Blues. In the opening round, Dallas defeated the Minnesota Wild, in six games, while St. Louis defeated the defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks, in seven games. Here is a breakdown of the two series. Both will begin on Friday, April 29.
San Jose Sharks vs Nashville Predators: The Sharks will have home-ice advantage in the series. During the regular season, the two teams met three times, with Nashville posting a record of 2-0-1. There is an intriguing matchup on defense, as the Preds had the highest scoring defense corps in the NHL this season, but the Sharks boast a blueliner named Brent Burns, who is a finalist for the Norris trophy this season. The Norris is awarded annually to the best defenseman in the NHL.
The Sharks outscored the LA Kings by a combined score of 16-11, while eliminating their first round opponent. Most impressive, was Sharks captain Joe Pavelski who scored five goals over the course of the five games. In net, Martin Jones was solid in his first-ever postseason series. In 2014, Jones was backup to Jonathan Quick, when the Kings won the Stanley Cup.
The Predators came up big in the biggest moments. Against Anaheim, the Preds won the first two games of the series, but then were outscored 12-3 over the course of the next three games, all of which were losses. Nashville then regrouped and took the final two games, by scores of 3-1 and 2-1, respectively. All-star goalie Pekka Rinne was virtually unbeatable in Game seven. The dynamic defense duo of Shea Weber and Roman Josi, also proved too much to handle.
Prediction – This will be a competitive and hard-hitting series. Preds defenseman Shea Weber always ups the ante this time of year, so the Sharks forwards will need to keep heads on a swivel. It will be up to the Sharks heavier forwards like Joel Ward and Joe Thornton, to put constant pressure on the Nashville defense. In the end, the relentless Sharks forecheck should be the difference. San Jose wins in six games.
Dallas Stars vs St Louis Blues: The Stars will have home-ice advantage in the series. During the regular season, these Central division rivals met five times. The Blues posted a record of 4-1, but three of the wins came in overtime. The Blues seem to have a distinct advantage in net, as Brian Elliott has been solid this postseason, whereas Stars netminder Kari Lehtonen, has been less than stellar.
The Stars will need to take advantage of their edge in offensive firepower. With four goals and six assists, team captain Jamie Benn currently leads the Western Conference in playoff scoring. Given the occasional (yet too frequent) lapses by Lehtonen, it is paramount, that players like Patrick Sharp, Jason Spezza and Cody Eakin, to consistently find the back of the net. The Stars have an edge in overall team speed and will need to use it to their advantage.
The Blues seem to have finally hit stride. After being eliminated in the first round in each of the last three seasons, this season they finally broke through. The biggest change was in goaltending. Brian Elliott, who was forced to play second-fiddle to Jaroslav Halak, Ryan Miller and Jake Allen over the past three seasons, finally solidified himself as the number one goalie. Seemingly having the team squarely behind him for the first time in his career, his confidence appears to be at an all-time high.
Prediction – The big question is whether or not the overall talent of Dallas will be enough to triumph over the more structured play of St. Louis. In order to be successful, the Blues will need to stay disciplined and eliminate Dallas’ speed in the neutral zone. Just as intriguing, will be the behind-the-scenes chess match between head coaches Lindy Ruff of Dallas and Ken Hitchcock of St. Louis. Prediction – The Stars have more talent, but the Blues have more experience and core players like David Backes and Vladimir Tarasenko have been through the grind. St. Louis wins in seven.