USA TODAY Sports’ Kevin Allen previews this weekend’s playoff hockey and the teams that are on the cusp of advancing.
USA TODAY Sports
Nashville Predators senior vice president Gerry Helper saw so many Chicago Blackhawks’ insignias on pundits’ playoff predictions that he joked that media outlets must have misplaced the Predators’ logo.
Predators research found 69 media members forecasting the series, and 65 predicting Blackhawks would win. Nobody envisioned the Predators’ four-game sweep that occurred.
“This was a bracket-buster to be sure,” Nashville general manager David Poile said.
Despite the team’s sluggish start this season, Poile said there were signs that the team was coming together.
“We did play really well in the new year,” Poile said. “I think we were the fourth-best team, in terms of record, from January on.”
MORE NHL PLAYOFFS:
The Predators were projected to be a top team this season. In the offseason, Poile had boldly acquired defenseman P.K. Subban in a trade for Shea Weber. It appeared the Predators would boast a more dynamic offensive. But chemistry adjustment, and injuries, slowed them in the early going. It didn’t help that top scorer Filip Forsberg scored one goal in his first 18 games.
“But the confidence and belief we had in training camp was re-established in the second half of the season,” Poile said. “Right now we just feel good about how we are playing.”
Here are five reasons why we were wrong about the Predators going into the playoffs:
1. Defense was king
The Predators’ skill level measures up to any defensive group in the NHL.
The Predators’ top four defensemen – Subban, Roman Josi, Ryan Ellis and Mattias Ekholm – were nearly flawless against the Blackhawks. They denied Blackhawks’ good looks at the net. It seemed like the Blackhawks only had a handful of premium scoring chances the entire series. The Predators outscored Chicago 11-1 in 5-on-5 situations.
It helps that all of the top Predators’ defenders are in the prime of their careers. Plus, Matt Irwin and Yannick Weber give Nashville the most consistent third-pairing the Predators’ have ever known.
2. Ryan Johansen elevated
Against the Blackhawks, Johansen was the elite No. 1 center the Predators hoped he would be when they acquired him from the Columbus Blue Jackets in 2016. Not only did he score (six points in five games), but he won more than 50% of his faceoffs.
“His game is maturing right in front of us,” Poile said. “I saw him quoted as saying the focus is so much stronger now than it has been in the regular-season. I think that speaks to him a little bit, and maybe to our team in terms of some of the inconsistencies we had in the season. But our team and Ryan had laser focus in this series.”
3. Strategic moves
Coach Peter Laviolette tweaked the lineup going into…