SCHEDULE: Game 1 Thursday, Game 2 Saturday, Game 3 Monday, Game 4 April 18th
There’s been so much hype and yapping coming out of Nashville that they’ve gone from a team and fanbase I generally had no problem to one I’d be happy to see eat it and as soon as possible. Sadly, a one-man team is almost certainly not going to be able to pull off the job, and that’ll give us the Jets-Predators series we all want to watch anyway. Still, it could get trickier than it needs to be for the Preds.
Goalies: The Avs are going to have to resort to their backup, though they have one of the better backups in the league. Semyon Varlamov hurt a tentacle and is done for the year, so it’ll be up to Jonathan Bernier. Bernier was about league average this year, which for your #2 is exactly what you’d want. Since taking over the past few games he’s barely been ok, though he shut down the Blues enough in the last game of the season. Still, he wasn’t very good against the Sharks, Ducks, or Kings, three playoff teams. And the Avs really needed those wins. So that’s a problem.
The Predators have no such problems. Thanks to Vasilevskiy’s fall-off this year, there’s not much doubt that Pekka Rinne is going to win the Vezina this year. There’s no way around a .927 this year, and that’s what Rinne put up. Rinne had been an underwhelming playoff performer until last season, where he put up a .930. Most goalies don’t figure out something at 35. Clearly Rinne has. This matchup alone is probably enough for the Preds to get through, and easily .
Defense: Let’s face it, the Avs roll into the playoffs with probably the worst blue line of any playoff team. Patrik Nemeth and Deputy Samuel Girard are on the top pairing. Tyson Barrie is about the only experience they have at anything with plodding Nikita Zadorov. It’s a real issue. And considering the speed the Preds have, they’re going to get buried. Which means Bernier is going to have to bail them out, and he’s not really equipped to do that.
The Preds blue line… you don’t need me to tell you. It’s the best of the teams left. There are at least three top pairing guys here, and you could make a case for Ekholm if you want. And if they keep Alexei Emelin on the third pairing where he belongs, they will have these four guys on the ice for 45-50 minutes of each game. That’s enough.
Forwards: The only thing you can say for the Avs is that they’ll have the best player in this series. Nathan MacKinnon is your Hart Trophy winner, unless every voter had an embolism while voting (which they did). The Avs only hope is he goes nuclear, and even that might not be enough. Past his line, there’s just nothing. Tyson Jost and Alex Kerfoot have nice futures ahead of them but they’ve got a long way to go. Carl Soderberg do anything for you?
Meanwhile, the Preds are deep and fast. Even if Ryan Johansen is a dough-filled dog now that he got paid (and he is), and even if MacKinnon eats him alive and spits him back out to eat him again (he will), the Avs aren’t going to have an answer for Kyle Turris’s line or Nick Bonino as a #3, which he won the past two Cups as. Johansen might be a problem in future rounds, but it really won’t matter here.
Prediction: You just can’t find a path for the Avs, other than HOCKEY. MacKinnon could steal them a game, maybe even two, but you wouldn’t count on it given all the Preds have. Let’s get to the main event here. Preds in 5.