VANCOUVER – The Nashville Predators and Vancouver Canucks don’t have a playoff rivalry—yet.
But Nashville coach Barry Trotz says there will be no shortage of animosity when the two clubs meet in a Stanley Cup playoff series for the first time, starting Thursday night in Vancouver.
Trotz predicted it will take “just a game” for the clubs to develop a natural disliking for each other.
“Everybody’s very competitive,” said Trotz. “Both teams realize the importance of winning four games and it’s going to start (Thursday) night. They’re going to come out with their push and try to make their statement and we’re going to try to make our statement and the series will be on and it’ll evolve.
“Every game, to me, is a different story and every shift sometimes (and) every period are different chapters and pages of that story.”
The Predators are trying to re-write their woeful playoff history. Prior to dispatching the offensively-gifted Anaheim Ducks in six games, the Predators had never advanced to the second round of the playoffs since they entered the NHL in the 1998-99 season.
“From being in the National Hockey League, this is really a step that we wanted to take as an organization,” said Trotz. “For me, it’s not as big a deal. For me, it’s about the organization, the team and the players that have been here before, the players that have had some frustration.”
But Trotz does not want his players to dwell on the accomplishment. He points out that many newcomers did not experience the same despondency as veterans who have been with the club for several seasons.
“This group (of newcomers) didn’t have a lot of history with our past,” said Trotz. “They’re looking forward to making some history—not looking at past history.”
At first glance, the series shapes up as a battle between defensive specialists and an offensive powerhouse. The Preds are known as a defensive team who Trotz often says “score by committee.” On the other hand, the Canucks finished first overall in the regular season while recording the most goals and boasting the league’s top scorer in Daniel Sedin and his twin brother Henrik, who also finished in the top five.
But Trotz said that, based on Nashville’s showing against the Ducks demonstrates appearances can be deceiving.
“I thought it would be a defensive struggle when we played the Ducks and it really wasn’t,” said Trotz. “We were the high-scoring team. Our five-on-five play, we scored a lot. Power play scored a lot more than I think people expected. It was a strange series.”
He said the series with Anaheim contradicted the regular season when the Predators’ penalty-killing units excelled and their power play struggled.
Still, Trotz, is looking for more discipline from his players, especially defenceman Shane O’Brien, who has a history with both teams. O’Brien was traded to Nashville at the start of the season after he ran afoul of Vancouver management in 2009-10, when he was effectively suspended for arriving late for a morning skate.
Trotz wants the outspoken O’Brien, who was conspicuous by his absence from a media availability Wednesday, to tone down his act on the ice after running into penalty trouble against the Ducks.
“The big thing with (O’Brien) is, he’s a really good penalty-killer,” said Trotz. “He was taking some penalties. We had killed off 11-of-13 when he was not in the box and only two of seven when he was in the box. It’s easy to convince him once you lay it out there for him in the right way…If he doesn’t (stay controlled) then he won’t be in the lineup.”
Although the rivalry might not be as famous as others Nashville and Vancouver still waged some close, emotion-filled battles during the regular season. The teams split their four-game season series 2-2. The Predators’ 3-0 shutout of the Canucks March 3 in Nashville was the largest margin of victory.
All other games were decided by identical 3-1 scores. Despite a total of 30 power plays, Vancouver managed to score the lone power-play goal, in 16 opportunities. Nashville was blanked on 14.
Preds defenceman Ryan Suter said they have to beware of a Canucks club following its dramatic Game 7 overtime victory over Chicago on Tuesday night.
Suter, who has spent his entire six-year NHL career with Nashville, said Nashville’s veterans won’t get overly excited about being in the second round for the first time.
“It’s obviously exciting,” said Suter. “For the organization, it’s huge to get past the first round and get the monkey off the back there. But for us, our team, the players, we want to win. We haven’t won anything yet and we’re going to try as hard as we can to win.”
NOTES: The Predators will have Martin Erat back in their line after he missed the last two games against the Ducks with an upper-body injury. “Marty’s ready to go,” said Trotz. “He practised the last couple days with us. He’s excited–and we’re excited for him to come back in the lineup.” Erat led his club in scoring against Vancouver in the regular season with four points.