Update (12:20 PM): Bob Duff writes that McCarty "wasn't counting on playing" when he talked to him this morning. - Matt
Update (12:12 PM): Ansar Khan reports that with Mikael Samuelsson set to play, the final roster spot will go to either Aaron Downey or Darren McCarty. Bruce MacLeod, on the other hand, reported earlier that McCarty would get the nod.
Khan provides projected lines and pairings for Nashville:
Jan Hlavac-Jason Arnott-J.P. Dumont
Martin Erat-Radek Bonk-Alexander Radulov
Vern Fiddler-Scott Nichol-Jerred Smithson
Brandon Bochenski-Rich Peverley-Jordin Tootoo
Dan Hamhuis-Greg de Vries
Ryan Suter-Marek Zidlicky
Greg Zanon-Shea Weber
Tonight is Game 1 of "Series E," the Western Conference Quarterfinal between the #1 seed Detroit Red Wings and the #8 seed Nashville Predators.
It is the second time the teams have met in the playoffs. In 2004, the Wings knocked the Predators out of the first round in six games. It was Nashville's first ever trip to the post-season.
2004 series recaps:
Regular Season Series
The eight-game regular season series ended 5-3 in Detroit's favor. The Wings won November 7th (3-2 SO), December 10th (2-1), March 9 (4-3), March 20th (6-3) and March 30th (1-0 OT). The Predators' wins came November 22nd (3-2), February 12th (4-2) and March 15th (3-1).
The Predators finished the season 41-32-9 with 91 points. They were just 18-18-2 through December 31st, but a 23-14-7 second half put them in the playoffs. They finished the season with a 5-1-1 flourish after a 3-6-0 stretch.
They clinched a spot when Vancouver lost 2-1 to Edmonton on the third. Their 3-1 loss to Chicago on the 4th locked them in 8th place.
The Predators have a 4-12 post-season record and have yet to win a series. They were bounced in five games the past two years in a row by San Jose. This is the organization's fourth playoff series.
JP Dumont (76) and Jason Arnott (76) led the team in points. Dumont's 29 goals were a team-high, with Arnott coming in at a close second with 28.
Just two other Predators hit the 20-goal mark: Alexander Radulov (26) and Martin Erat (23).
David Legwand (15), Radek Bonk (14), Jan Hlavac (12), Vernon Fiddler (11), Jordin Tootoo (11), and Scott Nichol (10) were the only other Preds to finish with double-digit goal totals. Martin Gelinas came close with 9, but had his season cut short by a knee injury.
Erat led all skaters with eight points against the Wings this season. He and Radulov both scored 4 goals. Dumont and Arnott notched 5 assists.
The forward corps contributed 208 goals to the Preds' 12th-place 227 goal total.
Arnott led the forwards and the team in plus-minus with a +19. Nichol (12), Radulov (7), Brandon Bochenski (6), Dumont (5), Martin Gelinas (5), and Peverly (4) finished in the positives.
Darcy Hortichuk (-1), Hlavac (-1), Erat (-3), Legwand (-4), Fiddler (-4), Tootoo (-8), and Jerred Smithson (-9) finished in the minuses. Radek Bonk was a team-worst -31.
As a group, the Predators' forwards have 431 games of playoff experience.
Martin Gelinas leads the way with 147, 11 of which came against the Wings. He has 7 points over those 11 games, but his total playoff production is 56 points, 23 of which were goals. Due to his knee, however, he won't play in this series.
Jason Arnott is the second-most experience forward with regard to the playoffs, having appeared in 96 post-season games. He has never faced the Wings in the post-season. His 63 career playoff points are a high on Nashville.
The Predators' forward corps has elements of size, with Jason Arnott leading the group at 6'4", 220 lbs. Radek Bonk is not far behind at 6'3" 213. Darcy Hordichuk (215), JP Dumont (205), Vernon Fiddler (204), and Jan Hlavac (201) all crack 200 pounds. A further five players weigh in at 190 or more.
Marek Zidlicky led the team with 43 points, 38 of which were assists. Ryan Suter's 31 points were good for second. Dan Hamhuis (27) and Shea Weber (20) were the only other defensemen to crack 20 points.
Ville Koistinen finished with 17 points and Greg De Vries finished with 15, but Greg Zanon ended up with just five assists.
The defense accounted for 19 of the Preds' total team goals-for.
Koistinen led the defense in plus-minues with a +13. De Vries was +7 and Suter was +3.
The rest of the blueline finished in the minuses: Hamhuis (-4), Zanon (-5), Zidlicky (-5), and Weber (-6).
The defense has 148 games of playoff exeperience, most of which were logged by De Vries (105) during his years with Colorado.
Dan Hamhuis has appeared in all 16 Nashville playoff games.
De Vries is the heaviest Nashville defender at 215 lbs, but the 213-lb, 6'3" Weber is the tallest. Zanon (211), Hamhuis (211) and Suter (200) break 200 lbs, but Zidlicky and Koistinen are pegged at 190.
Hamhuis is the big TOI guy, with an average of 22:43 minutes per game. Zidlicky and Suter average 20:49 and 20:34, respectively. Weber, De Vries and Zanon are good for 19:00, give or take 30 seconds.
Dan Ellis has been pegged as the starter for this series. He finished 23-10-3 and appeared in 44 games. He posted a 2.34 GAA and .924 save-percentage.
His colleague, Chris Mason, went 18-22-6, appearing in 51 games and posting a 2.90 GAA and .898 save-percentage.
Mason and Ellis have five games of playoff experience between them and all of them belong to Mason. He posted a 1-4 record in last year's playoffs. Ellis has just 45 NHL games of any kind under his belt.
The Predators lost 238 man-games to injury. 82 of those were because of Steve Sullivan's back injury, which has had him out indefinitely.
Currently, Nashville is without Gelinas (knee, season), Ortmeyer (knee, season), and Legwand (foot, day-to-day).
Legwand practiced yesterday, but his status for tonight is "doubtful."
The Wings finished the season 54-21-7 for 115 points. They skated to a 41-10-4 record through February 5th, but a 1-8-2 skid over the rest of the month hurt their pace. They rebounded in March and April, however, finishing with a 12-3-1 record in their final 16. Thus it would be a falsehood to say that they "faltered down the stretch."
The Wings clinched a playoff spot with their March 13th win over Dallas, notching their 99th and 100th points in the process. They clinched first overall with their 3-2 win over Columbus on April 3rd, beating out San Jose for the honor.
The Red Wing organization is 269-248-1 (yes, one tie) all-time in the post-season. That translates to 58 series wins and 45 exits. This is the organization's 104th playoff series.
Pavel Datsyuk lead all Detroit skaters with 97 points, an NHL 4th-best. His 66 assists were also a team-high.
Henrik Zetterberg led the team in goals with 43 and his 92 points put him in second place among Red Wing skaters.
In addition to Zetterberg, the Wings received double-digit goal contributions from seven other forwards: Datsyuk (31), Johan Franzen (27), Tomas Holmstrom (20), Dan Cleary (20), Valtteri Filppula (19), Jiri Hudler (13), and Mikael Samuelsson (11). Only six regulars finished with less than ten goals.
The Wings' forward corps contributed 210 of the Wings' 3rd-best 252 goals.
Pavel Datsyuk finished the league leader in plus-minus at +41. The Wings' featured three over +20-or-better forwards: Mikael Samuelsson (+21), Dan Cleary (+21), and Henrik Zetterberg (+30).
Only three regulars finished in the minuses: Kris Draper (-2), Kirk Maltby (-8), and Dallas Drake (-12).
As a group, the Wings' forwards have 858 games of playoff experience. Much of that is concentrated in the old Grind Line trio of Kris Draper (172), Darren McCarty (157), and Kirk Maltby (137), the last of whom is unlikely to appear in this series due to a hamstring injury.
Tomas Kopecky has appeared in four playoff games, but he will not play in this post-season because of a torn ACL.
Tomas Holmstrom (108) is the only other Red Wing forward with 100 or more playoff games under his belt. His 62 playoff points are a team high for forwards, as are his 32 post-season goals.
The Wings' forwards, though typically thought of as small, are not without large bodies. Johan Franzen, at 6'3", 220lbs, is the biggest man up front. Justin Abdelkader and Aaron Downey are both listed as 6'1", 215 lbs. Mikael Samuelsson (213), Daniel Cleary (210), Darren McCarty (210), Tomas Holmstrom (203), and Mark Hartigan (200) weigh in at 200 or more.
The remaining Red Wing regulars range from 195 (Zetterberg) to 182 lbs (Hudler).
At this point, the Wings' forward units look like this:
With that lineup, healthy scratches include Aaron Downey, prospect Justin Abdelkader, and call-up Darren Helm.
Nick Lidstrom led the Wings in defenseman scoring with 70 points, 60 of which were assists.
Brian Rafalski finished with 55 points and 42 assists. His 13 goals were a team high.
Niklas Kronwall (35) and Brad Stuart (23) were the only other Red Wings defensemen to notch 20 or more points. Stuart earned 21 of his 23 while with LA prior to the trade deadline.
The defense accounted for 42 of the Wings' team goals.
Lidstrom narrowly missed besting his teammate Datsyuk's plus-minus with a +40. His regular defense partner Rafalski finished +27. Kronwall and Chris Chelios finished +25 and +11 respectively.
Brett Lebda (-1) and Andreas Lilja (-2) were the only regulars to finish in the minuses.
Brad Stuart's season ended with him at -10, but that's a relic from his days with the Kings. He was +6 with Detroit.
Together, the Wings' defensemen have 646 games of playoff experience. Chris Chelios accounts for 246 of those and Lidstrom accounts for a further 192. Brian Rafalski (192) is the only other Red Wing with triple digit games of playoff experience.
When Chelios suits up tonight, he'll be tying the record for all-time playoff games played, a record currently held by Patrick Roy.
Stuart has seen the ice in 52 playoff games and Lilja has been there for 30. Lebda has 18. Kronwall is on the low end with just six games under his belt.
Chelios has a team-high 144 playoff points and Lidstrom is not far behind with 136. Nick's 39 goals is a team best.
The Wings' big man on the blueline is Andreas Lilja at 220 lbs and 6'3". Brad Stuart isn't far off at 6'2", 213lbs.
After that, the Wings' defensemen are pretty small. Lebda is listed at 195, but, at 5'9", he is the shortest defender. Brian Rafalski is just 5'10" and 191 lbs. Chelios carries 191 lbs on a six-foot frame, but Kronwall is listed at 189 at the same height. Nick Lidstrom weighs in at 189, but is 6'1".
Lidstrom is, predictably, the guy getting the big minutes in Detroit. His 26:43 in average TOI leads all skaters in the Winged Wheel. Rafalski (24:04), Stuart (21:09), and Kronwall (21:06) each cracked 20 minutes just about every night. Andreas Lilja averaged 18:13. Chris Chelios and Brett Lebda each averaged between 16:00 and 17:00 minutes a game.
When fully healthy, the Wings' defense should look like this:
Jonathan Ericsson, Derek Meech, Kyle Quincey, and Garrett Stafford have also filled in when needed. Ericsson and Quincey are going to be playoff call-ups, but hopefully will only see time in practice. Meech also should only be a practice player, if all goes well.
Dominik Hasek will be the starter this series. He posted a 27-10-3 record and appeared in 41 games. He finished with a 2.14 GAA, which was good for 4th in the League, and a .902 save-percentage. He is not the goalie he once was, but he remains a good one and will be doing his job as long as he allows no soft goals.
He will be backed up by Chris Osgood, who finished first with a 2.09 GAA. His record was 27-9-4 and he appeared in 43 games. He posted a save-percentage of .914. If Hasek were to go down with injury or not play up to the standard expected of him, Osgood is well capable of stepping in.
Hasek and Osgood have a combined 202 games of post-season experience.
The Wings lost 199 man games to injury this season. During the month of February, they had the distinction of having six regulars, including their four most important defensemen, out at the same time.
The current injured list includes Tomas Kopecky (torn ACL, sprained MCL, out for season) and Kirk Maltby (hamstring, late in the series).
According to Bruce MacLeod, Brad Stuart (broken finger) will play tonight, as will Mikael Samuelsson (groin).
Some doubt was cast on the status of Tomas Holmstrom (groin) yesterday, but it looks like he's in tonight.
Looking at the two team's records down the stretch, it the idea that the Wings struggled and the Predators flourished isn't really borne out. If anything, the Wings had the stronger finish, not least because they finally found a way to beat the Central Division.
Of course, it must be admitted that their level of play declined relative to their performance through January. However, that is more a measure of their first half dominance than a mark against them. They were just that good in the first months of the season.
The skid in February was awful, but by the end of the season, they were on their way to regaining the momentum they had through January. Given that their injury troubles did not end when Lidstrom. Chelios, Rafalski, Kronwall, and Cleary returned, their record in the final month seems pretty good.
The Predators deserve a lot of credit for overcoming a poor start and off-ice distractions by making the playoffs. Of course, they sort of backed into the post-season, but the fact that they were in position to step in when the Canucks fell off says a lot.
They played the Wings tough this season, as they generally have in recent years, but whether that was a part of the Wings' mental block about the Central this season or Nashville's prowess, I don't know. We'll find out the answer to that question in this series.
I'm not one for predictions, so I'm not giving a specific one. Like always, I go into this series with the expectation that the Wings will win it, but with the realization that they could collapse and be eliminated instead.
In this case, the Predators playing their best hockey are no match for the Wings playing their "A" game. The question is whether or not Detroit will play to their potential. If they don't, they certainly run the risk of being upset.
For the Wings, "A" game means puck possession. They need to keep the puck away from the Predators' top forwards with crisp passing and smart plays. A return to their physical first round form of last season would be a plus. When they don't have the puck, they need to play perfect positional defense. When the Predators break through in spite of the defense, Dominik Hasek needs to be there to make the save.
No offense to the Predators, but this is Detroit's series to win or lose.
It's the most exciting time of the year for hockey fans. It's also the most painful. Every shot, hit, and pass matters. I hope your heart can handle the stress.