With Game 1 just hours away, it’s time to make our series predictions as the Sharks get ready to take on the Predators.
Finally, finally after a week off, the San Jose Sharks will resume their Stanley Cup quest as they begin their second-round journey tonight by hosting the Nashville Predators in Game 1 of their Western Conference semifinals series.
As puck drop approaches, the staff at Blades of Teal make their predictions for how this series will shake out:
I think this will be an even tougher series for the Sharks, who will be coming off of almost a week of rest by Game One puck drop. While that may help, we saw the Lightning – who had five days rest – come out rusty against the Islanders, who beat the Panthers just two nights prior, finding themselves down by three goals fairly early on. The Sharks have to avoid that rust and come out knowing that Nashville will be a confident team that can win on the road, even though team teal may be more well-rested.
Nashville’s top four defensemen, Shea Weber, Roman Josi, Ryan Ellis and Mattias Ekholm may be the best top four of any team in the league. It will be a very difficult test for Sharks forwards who are coming off a series against a thin and depleted group of Kings defensemen, as Drew Doughty could only do so much. Pekka Rinne looked like the Vezina Trophy-caliber Pekka Rinne that we have seen in the past for much of round one, looking more comfortable in the crease in the playoffs (.915 save percentage, 2.43 GAA) than in the regular season (.908 save percentage, 2.48 GAA).
Both teams are basically at full-strength with no major injuries, and Nashville has no pressure as an underdog and will be motivated to reach their first conference finals in franchise history. It’s safe to say this will be a low-scoring series between one team filled with veteran forwards in San Jose and another with elite, veteran blue-liners in Nashville. This should go at least six, possibly seven games between two squads that have already pulled off an upset (seed wise) and will play loose and with nothing to lose.
Prediction: Sharks in 7
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I haven’t watched a lot of the Predators this year so I can’t get a good read on them. I will say they are a more formidable challenge than most Sharks fans expect. While they have a reputation of being offensively challenged, they were able to address that with the acquisition of Ryan Johansen. Having Johansen along with James Neal, Filip Forsberg and Calle Jarnkrok will cause challenges for this Sharks defense.
I am also curious to see the play of Josi and Ellis. Weber has the reputation of an elite defenseman but Josi and Ellis are the top blue liners on this team. This combination has led to Nashville being the top possession team remaining in these playoffs. Sounds familiar.
Finally, we get to the goaltending matchup, which as always, is the biggest key to any series. The outcome will rest on Rinne. We know who Martin Jones is but which version of Rinne will show up?
If pre-All-Star Rinne (who struggled to maintain a .900 save percentage) shows up, this is an easy win for the Sharks. However, I’m willing to bet the normal version of Rinne will appear, making this a much closer series.
I would not be surprised to see this series go the distance, but the Sharks are rested and a good possession team of their own. San Jose can match most of the strengths Nashville presents so the door should be wide open for an appearance in the Western Conference finals, but I won’t hold my breath.
Prediction: Sharks in 6
Nashville has an elite starting netminder in Rinne who is capable of stealing a game on any given night. Now admittedly, I didn’t watch all of their Game 7 matchup against Anaheim, but the little I did see, Rinne was on top of his game and the primary reason why the Predators are taking on the Sharks today. He was that good.
Up front, Nashville can be deadly with Johansen centering their top line, and Mike Ribeiro and Mike Fisher centering their second and third lines respectively. The top two lines alone combined for 13 points (five goals, eight assists) in round one.
The Predators are very stingy defensively with all five guys supporting the pucks, along with offensively capable blue liners headlined by Weber.
All that said, the Sharks should be up to the task. Their top-six is noticeably better with Joe Pavelski leading the pack. Their depth enables them to distribute their offense throughout all four lines, which they did against the Kings.
Converting on opportunities will be of the utmost importance for the boys in teal. I expect this to be a very physical series, but at the same time, if the Sharks utilize their speed well and roll all four lines, they should have a slight advantage over the Predators.
Both teams should put up a good fight and it’s going to be another fun one so buckle up.
Prediction: Sharks in 6
This is an interesting series because these two teams have built their success in different ways with the Sharks possessing quality offensive talent, while the Predators are rock solid on the blue line. These teams stack up pretty closely with one another and that showed during the regular season when they were separated by just two points in the standings.
For me, this will come down to special teams and the blue line for San Jose. Nashville was awful in their round one series on the power play and team teal can’t allow the Predators to find success as that will only give them more confidence. On the flip side, with how stingy the Nashville defense can become, the Sharks must capitalize on their own opportunities like they did against the Kings.
San Jose’s defense did a great job of limiting L.A. around Martin Jones, and if they can do the same in this series, I don’t think Nashville has the firepower to generate enough offense to win.
While the Predators defense has an edge over the Sharks, I think their group of six blue liners is more than capable of shutting down these Nashville forwards, who besides their top line, shouldn’t cause too many problems.
Overall, I think the Sharks match up well against this Predators team and think they’ll be able to handle Nashville over the long haul.
Prediction: Sharks in 6