NASHVILLE, Tenn. – The Nashville Predators finally have finished ahead of Detroit for the first time as a franchise. Now the Predators’ challenge is doing something with home-ice advantage.
The Predators open the post-season Wednesday night against the Red Wings—the Central Division foe they’ve measured themselves against since their first season in 1998-99.
So maybe it’s only appropriate the Predators start this post-season against Detroit in the first step of what they hope is a deep run.
“Every time you get to the playoffs, it’s a new season,” Nashville defenceman Ryan Suter said, “We’re excited about it. If we can get everyone on the same page, pulling the rope the same way, I feel like we have a good chance to do something special.”
First, the Predators must show they can keep home-ice advantage after finishing fourth in the Western Conference for the third time in seven playoff berths.
Nashville lost to San Jose in 2006 and 2007 as the No. 4 seed, losing in five games to the San Jose Sharks each time. The Predators even had Peter Forsberg and Paul Kariya in 2007 and couldn’t advance.
This will be the third time Nashville has played the Red Wings in the playoffs, and the Predators lost in six games in both 2004 and 2008 when Detroit had home-ice advantage. Nashville coach Barry Trotz said Sunday he sees a difference in this team and those that couldn’t take advantage of starting the playoffs on home ice in 2006 and 2007.
“Back when we played the Sharks, there was it seemed like a lot more pressure back then,” Trotz said. “I don’t know if we knew how to deal with it, yet we had a great season. But I don’t know if we were built for the playoffs or understood the ‘Wow’ factor of the playoffs. The game’s going to get ramped up to just an unbelievable level. If you haven’t experienced it, it really can be overwhelming.”
Many of these Predators helped the franchise win its first post-season series last spring, beating Anaheim in six games. They then pushed Vancouver to six games in the second round. Nashville also added playoff experience by trading for defenceman Hal Gill and forward Andrei Kostitsyn from Montreal and forward Paul Gaustad from Buffalo before the deadline.
“It just feels different,” Trotz said.
These teams split the season series 3-3 with Nashville winning the last game 4-1 on March 30 in Detroit.
Henrik Zetterberg said the Red Wings have known since that last game they had a pretty good chance of playing Nashville to start the post-season. Finishing fifth helped them avoid a trip out West to play Phoenix, so travel will not be a problem in this series.
“Nashville’s a good team, they made some good moves in the end there at the trading deadline, got the player from Russia,” Zetterberg said of forward Alexander Radulov. “It’s going to be a tough series. Good goaltending, they play tight. We played them a lot so we know what to do.”
Detroit coach Mike Babcock seems happiest at not having to travel.
“We know Nashville good, they know us good, it’ll be fun going down to their building,” Babcock said. “It’s always exciting down there, we’ve played some good games in there this year, so that should be a lot of fun.”
Detroit finished with the NHL’s best home record at 31-7-3 but struggled more on the road. The Red Wings go into the post-season 2-6-2 in their last 10 road games.
Nashville is pretty good at home too. The Predators ranked sixth in the league with a 26-10-5 record at Bridgestone Arena overall and 22-5-2 in their last 28 games. The NHL’s best power play is a touch better at home where the Predators convert 22.9 per cent.
The Predators also have the NHL’s winningest goalie this season in Pekka Rinne, who went 43-18-8. Rinne said he’s looking forward to the chance of starting against the Red Wings at home after a 6-1 win Saturday night in Colorado.
“That’s going to be a great series,” Rinne said. “I think we have a pretty good rivalry going on with them. Just looking forward to that. It’s going to be a different world from the regular season. I can’t wait to start with it.”
His coach agrees, even if being at home is best if a series goes seven games.
Trotz said he is “very confident we can win in any building in the league, and I know we can win in this building.”
AP Sports Writer Pat Graham in Denver and AP freelance writer Paul Harris in Detroit contributed to this report.