The evenly matched San Jose Sharks and Nashville Predators meet in a second round playoff series in which special teams will be key.
Regular season recap
Oct. 29: Predators 2, Sharks 1
Feb. 6: Sharks 2, Predators 6
April 2: Sharks 3, Predators 2 (SO)
Predators: F Cody Bass (lower body, out)
Keys to a Sharks victory
Joe Thornton, Joe Pavelski, and defenseman Brent Burns accounted for much of the Sharks' potent fourth-ranked regular season offense. In the first round against the Los Angeles, those three got the better of the Kings' top defense pairing of Brayden McNabb and Drew Doughty (a combined –9 in five games). They're facing another good duo in this round in Nashville's Shea Weber and Roman Josi, but not an unbeatable one. The Preds' pairing will sometimes cede too much real estate in the defensive zone in order to protect the area directly in front of goalie Pekka Rinne. Using lateral passes and screened point shots, San Jose can establish zone time and find the back of the net.
Another way to get the Sharks' best players scoring is obviously the power play. They had the third best man advantage efficiency during the regular season (22.5%) and averaged one power play goal per game in their series against the Kings. The Predators have some skaters who can be goaded into the occasional dumb penalty.
A Sharks' series victory will also probably require an encore performance from the second line of Joonas Donskoi, Logan Couture, and Joel Ward, which played very well in round one. Donskoi, in particular, opened eyes with his two goals in Game 5. And the Preds know better than most about Ward's penchant for postseason heroics.
Keys to a Predators victory
When the Preds hung a six-spot on the Sharks in their February meeting, Viktor Arvidsson had two of his eight regular season goals. His line, with Mike Fisher and Colin Wilson, will be the key for Nashville in this series. Despite their fearsome top six, San Jose's depth forwards can be outplayed. While Fisher and his opposite, Patrick Marleau of the Sharks, have both clearly lost a step, the Preds' center boasts better wingers. Wilson led the way for the Preds with five points against the Ducks. If he can continue to use his speed and size, he'll create match-up problems for the Sharks.
But they can't count on all the offense to come from their depth forwards and defensemen. The Predators have invested a lot of assets and money in recent years to get their top-six up to code. While it's tempting to say Nashville needs Rinne to steal a few games in order to win the series, the Preds are not that team anymore—and he's not that goalie. Ryan Johansen, Filip Forsberg, James Neal, and Craig Smith can score, and they need to more often. The power play went 1–26 in the first round and San Jose had the 21st-ranked penalty kill this season. Nashville must light the lamp on the man advantage to keep up.
As Jeremy Roenick said after the Game 7 of the Ducks-Predators, this isn't the Sharks team or Predators team that people are used to watching. San Jose netminder Martin Jones could outduel Rinne and it would be to the surprise of no one, given how they both performed during the regular season. But these teams are generally pretty even. I predict the Predators' power play will break out. Nashville in seven.