NHL Playoffs 2012: Detroit Red Wings vs. Nashville Predators

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NHL Playoffs 2012: Detroit Red Wings vs. Nashville Predators
Frederick Breedon/Getty Images

Thanks to Pavel Datsyuk's goal with 46.4 seconds remaining to send the game into overtime, the Detroit Red Wings secured the extra point in the standings that was needed in order to clinch the fifth seed against the Chicago Blackhawks Saturday night.

Thus, they earn a date with the Nashville Predators in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs, getting a West Cost reprieve against the likes of Los Angeles, San Jose and Phoenix.

So now that the Red Wings' regular season is in the books, let's take a look at the impending series with the Predators.

 

Series preview:

The Red Wings have given the Predators home-ice advantage by virtue of failing to pass them with a win in Detroit's final regular-season game versus Chicago.

This home-ice advantage could be huge for Nashville, as Nashville has never defeated Detroit in a playoff series.

Detroit finished with a losing record on the road this season (17-21-3). The only playoff team that owns a worse road record than the Red Wings is the Washington Capitals.

In a previous article I emphasized the importance of home ice, especially in the first round, but Detroit will have to put their road demons behind them to have any hope against Nashville.

Who wins this quarter-finals series?

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The Red Wings had a 3-3-0 record against Nashville this season, with all games being decided in regulation. But they won just one of the three games at Bridgestone Arena.

 

Who needs to step up for for Detroit?

As far as Detroit is concerned, there are two main players that need to step up, but have underachieved thus far.

Johan Franzen seems to come and go as far as scoring is concerned. This is a concern as far as Red Wings fans are concerned. Franzen had 55 points, but just nine points in his last 18 games to close out the 2011-2012 season.

When Franzen comes to play, he lights it up. Just ask St. Louis a few nights ago when Franzen potted two goals in the third period.

Franzen, however, needs to step up on a more regular basis and get his hitting game going when he can't find his scoring touch.

The Swede has been a notable playoff performer in the past with some incredible performances, but the Red Wings will need consistent play from him to get past the first round.

Jimmy Howard is another question mark for Detroit.

Frederick Breedon/Getty Images

Howard started the season on fire, earning himself an All-Star nomination. But after getting his finger broken in a bizarre manner against Vancouver in Feburary, Howard missed almost three weeks, and the Red Wings went from first in the league to their final-season standing of fifth in the West.

What's worse is, Howard's record has suffered enormously since his return, going 3-6-3 with a no-decision in 13 games played.

That has to have some fans worried.

 

Who will surprise in this series?

Well I'm not sure you can call him a surprise anymore, but Jiri Hudler is finally living up to his highly touted potential. Hudler put up career highs in goals, points and shooting percentage, with 25 goals, 50 points, and 19.7 shot percentage.

That shot percentage is also tied for second (with Steven Stamkos) in the league amongst shooters 100-plus shots on goal.

If Hudler can continue to put up goals, and possibly shoot a little bit more often, he can be a game and series changer for Detroit.

 

Frederick Breedon/Getty Images

Keep your eyes open for...

Gustav Nyquist

Nyquist has no points in his last six contests, including Saturday versus Chicago, but he had seven points in 12 games before then. Not too bad for a rookie playing as a bottom-six forward. Nyquist has shown flashes of offensive ability, being able to find and get the puck to open players.

Jonathan Ericsson

Playing more minutes this season (about 17 per game) has Ericsson thrust into the limelight whether he wants it or not. Ericsson missed almost the entire month of March with a broken wrist, and time will tell whether he continues to clear pucks out of the zone and be more physical as we have seen him be since his return, or if he goes back to his old lackadaisical self.

 

The Red Wings will win if:

They are fundamentally the better offensive team compared to the Predators, who have 17 more goals and plenty more offensive talent (comparing top sixes at forward). And despite Detroit having allowed six fewer goals than Nashville, the Predators are without a doubt more versatile and agile on the back end.

Frederick Breedon/Getty Images

Detroit's main challenge will be getting past the duo of Shea Weber and Ryan Suter.

The Red Wings will win if they can get Nashville on their heels and force them to open up as a team. Detroit needs to get rebounds, play (almost) mistake-free hockey, and have better goaltending from Jimmy Howard in the first period of games.

Detroit needs to be able to free wheel in the offensive zone and get traffic in front of Pekka Rinne.

If Detroit is able to succeed in the offensive zone while not giving Nashville too many odd-man rushes, they should come out on top in this series.

 

Prediction

Ah yes, the reason why you clicked on this article in the first place: a prediction. 

Detroit is going to win this series, barring some unforeseen offensive heroics from the Predators forwards.

Everyone knows what the defensive triad of Shea Weber, Ryan Suter and Pekka Rinne can do. But what is still largely unproven is the Nashville forwards' ability to get to the net and put pucks in the back of the net.

Regular seasons aren't indicative of the postseason, but Detroit's plus-45 goal differential compared to Nashville's plus-22 speaks volumes about Detroit's offensive ability.

Which Red Wings forward will have the most points against Nashville?

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If Detroit can put up two to three goals per road game, I say they can steal one and maybe two road games if the series goes to seven.

Detroit is too much offensively. I realize that they have been largely shut down on the road, but if last year was any indication, Detroit is willing and able to win on the road, and they should have no problem dispatching of these pesky Predators.

Detroit will take the series in six games on home ice.

 

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