The Predators and Red Wings bring to the table almost every combustible element required of an epic postseason clash. These division rivals know every move their opponent is capable of on the ice and have fought tooth and nail for playoff positioning.
Nashville is the upstart with something to prove, while Detroit comes in as the experienced veteran looking to fend them off for another year.
It's a classic tale and the tension for this series has been brewing throughout the 2011-12 campaign. The Red Wings and Predators each won three times during the regular-season series, when Detroit outscored Nashville 16-14.
Couple that with the fact each team had one victory in the opponent's building, and you have one of the most evenly matched first-round series in recent memory.
What Have We Learned About Detroit?
Detroit has the offensive firepower to hang with any team in the league, but the team must find the success they showed against Nashville in their first couple of meetings.
This season, the Red Wings scored 11 goals through the first three matchups against the Predators, but followed that with only five in the final three contests.
Detroit will need all the goals they can muster because their goaltending situation is not as reliable as it was earlier in the year.
After making his first All-Star team, Jimmy Howard floundered in the season's second half and, since returning from a broken finger, is only 3-6-3 with a no decision.
Nashville is by no means an offensive juggernaut, but do possess the league's top power play unit and will certainly be looking to pepper Howard with shots from all over the ice.
It will be interesting to see how a healthy Red Wings club can fend off this attack.
What Have We Learned About Nashville?
The Predators owning home ice has become a paramount advantage and may be the factor that finally gets them over the hurdle that is the Red Wings.
As detailed earlier, these teams each defended home ice brilliantly in their regular season matchups and Detroit is particularly inept in opposing buildings—the Red Wings went just 17-21-3 on the road this season.
The only playoff team that owns a worse road record than the Red Wings is the Washington Capitals.
Pekka Rinne will determine how far Nashville goes in the postseason and, if he brings the type of effort and energy that propelled the Predators to two March victories over Detroit, this team may finally win their first ever postseason series against the club from Hockeytown.
What Does It All Mean?
If nothing else, the regular season meetings between these squads taught us that they are almost perfectly equal.
Detroit is finally healthy (and at the right time no less), but Nashville has the more consistent presence between the pipes.
Nashville has the league's best power play, but Detroit is lethal when at even strength.
The scales would be balanced if not for the matter of home ice advantage—the sole factor that gives the Predators the edge in this series.
Does that guarantee their victory over the Red Wings?
Certainly not, but with two teams as equal as this anything that can tip the scales matters.