These teams have never met in the Stanley Cup Playoffs before, but nonetheless, all the makings for a great series are in place.
A Cup favourite last season, the Predators backed into this year’s post-season but still came out as champions of their Central Division. Goal scoring and the power play has been a disappointment all season and it won’t get any easier to generate offence against the Stars.
In Ben Bishop Dallas has a Vezina Trophy candidate this season and both he and Anton Khudobin combined for the Western Conference’s lowest GAA. Depth goal scoring has been Dallas’ primary weakness all season, but the return of trade deadline pickup Mats Zuccarello, who fractured his arm in his very first game with the team, is a potential game changer.
Here’s how the teams match up.
5-on-5, via Natural Stat Trick (with league rank)
Dallas: 48.32 CF% (22nd), 50.56 GF% (16th), .935 SV% (2nd), 6.87 SH% (29th), 1.004 PDO (11th)
Nashville: 52.24 CF% (7th), 53.77 GF% (8th), .927 SV% (5th), 7.69 SH% (20th), 1.005 PDO (8th)
Dallas: 21 PP% (11th), 82.8 PK% (5th), 209 GF (28th), 200 GA (2nd)
Nashville: 12.9 PP% (31st), 82.1 PK% (6th), 236 GF (19th), 212 GA (3rd)
The Skinny: The feeling around this year’s Predators is so much different than last year. First, their power play has been an issue all season long and finishes up at the bottom of the league. Acquiring Wayne Simmonds at the trade deadline hasn’t been the cure, but it’s no reason to write them off: eight of the past 10 Stanley Cup champions had a power play that finished in the bottom half of the NHL in the regular season.
And despite an incredible season from Viktor Arvidsson, in which he set a new franchise record for goals in a season with 34 in just 58 games played, Nashville’s offence leaves something to be desired. There are just three 20-goal scorers on the team and, since the trade deadline, Simmonds, Kyle Turris and Mikael Granlund have combined for just two goals.
Dallas has offensive issues itself, at least when you look past the big three of Alexander Radulov, Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn. The next three highest-scoring players on the team outside of them are defencemen, which is why the return of Zuccarello is such a big deal.
Dallas Stars X-Factor: We know Dallas needs defence and goaltending to be its calling card, and for the big three stars to create most of the offence, but there’s a reason GM Jim Nill targeted Zuccarello on the trade market.
With a clear need for secondary scoring, and the Benn-Seguin-Radulov line long split up, Zuccarello was a great playmaker to complement someone like Benn. He recorded a goal and an assist in his first game with the team before breaking his arm, and then added another assist when he returned for one more regular season game in April.
The 31-year-old Norwegian’s raw regular season totals are a career-low, but he attributed his slow start to the pressures of dealing with trade rumours. He really started to settle in and turn a corner in mid-January, though, finishing with 25 points in his last 18 games. Over that same time, Zuccarello leads the NHL in primary assists per 60 minutes of 5-on-5 action. He needs to continue that in these playoffs.
Nashville Predators X-Factor: As the saying goes, a team can only go as far as their goaltending will let them. And when it comes the Predators, it’s their depth in net that could lead to a deep run this spring.
To be clear, the crease still very much belongs to Pekka Rinne. The veteran netminder has put together another strong season in 2018-19: his 2.43 goals-against average and .917 save percentage is on par with seasons past, and the club has made it clear he’s the go-to guy for the playoffs and should have the team feeling confident about their crease. The difference between this year and last is the confidence the club has in the man behind Rinne, too.
Fellow Finn Juuse Saros made some big strides this season, getting his biggest workload yet: In 31 appearances and 27 starts, the 23-year-old has a 17-10-2 record with a 2.62 goals-against average and .915 and three shutouts. His late-season efforts have allowed Rinne to rest and shown his appetite for a bigger workload. Will he start any playoff games? For now, that’s unlikely. But anything can happen in the post-season… and with an insurance policy as strong as Saros right now, the Predators can be ready for anything this spring.
Stephen Johns, head
Martin Hanzal, back
Marc Methot, lower-body
Zac Rinaldo, shoulder
Miikka Salomaki, upper-body (day-to-day)