First round series breakdown: Predators (4) vs. Red Wings (5)
More telling are the differences, most notably on special teams. The Predators led the league in power play efficiency at 21.6 percent, while the Red Wings struggled as a third tier man-advantage outfit, ranking 22nd at 16.1 percent. The penalty-kill also favors the Preds who finished 10th (83.6), making them one of only three teams in the top 10 in both special teams categories. (The Canucks and Penguins were the others.) Detroit's PK proficiency finished at 81.8, but it did improve markedly down the stretch, as the Wings didn't yield a power play goal-against in their last seven games.
Another major difference is that the Wings added only depth defenseman Kyle Quincey at the trade deadline, while the Preds altered their look more than any playoff-bound team. GM David Poile added size on the blueline with Hal Gill and up front with centerman Paul Gaustad coming over from the Buffalo Sabres. Both bolstered an already sound penalty-killing group -- Gill with his shot-blocking and Gaustad as a top face-off man. Poile also brought in skill up front in Andrei Kostitsyn from Montreal and prodigal son Alexander Radulov -- back after defecting to the KHL in 2008. In contrast, the Red Wings may be transitioning to more and more younger players while the Predators are at a point where they feel they can finally, truly contend for the big prize.
And why not? This is the Predators' deepest, most talented and well-rounded collection ever. Pekka Rinne led all goaltenders in wins (43), and Shea Weber and Ryan Suter form the game's best 1-2 punch from the blueline. Mike Fisher epitomizes the Predators' solid two-way approach: honest, 200-foot hockey. Overall, they match-up better physically than the more well-known and decorated Nick Lidstrom, Pavel Datsyuk, Johan Franzen and Henrik Zetterberg. In goal, Detroit's All-Star, Jimmy Howard, was the best goalie in the game through the midseason break, but battled various injuries for 6-8 weeks afterwards. While he was out, Rinne just kept on winning for the Preds.
Detroit is the organization that Nashville has long held as its standard for which to strive. On paper, the Predators have arrived to that point. Now, they must take the final, mental leap and prove that this is indeed their time.