2024 Stanley Cup Playoff Preview: Canucks vs. Predators

Iain MacIntyre and Dan Murphy discuss the Vancouver Canucks' one of the best regular seasons in franchise history and their first round matchup against the Predators.

Not many would have predicted this as a first-round series back in October.

Even fewer would have thought the Vancouver Canucks would be the Pacific Division’s top seed.

In one corner you have those Canucks, the 22nd-overall team in the league last season that won 10 of its first 13 games in 2023-24 and never looked back. Throughout the season, there was concern that their league-leading team shooting percentage was contributing to inflated results and that they were bound to whither back to reality, but in the end the Canucks stayed on top and get here with a top-six offence.

Coach Rick Tocchet was finally able to squeeze the most out of a lineup that had for a few years been heavy with potential and light on results. The two-way buy-in he’s been able to draw from the group surely will end with him as a leading candidate for the Jack Adams Award. This is not just a case of a coach getting exceptional goaltending from an elite player (though there was certainly some of that), as backup Casey DeSmith was tasked with 29 starts and pulled them through a one-month period late in the season when Thatcher Demko was out with an injury.

In the other corner are the Nashville Predators, who less than a month from the March trade deadline were written off and set to sell. Even Juuse Saros, the centrepiece of this group, was being discussed as a potential trade candidate a year away from his contract expiring.

A 9-2 home loss to Dallas on Feb. 15 was, at the time, perceived as the defining moment that basically ended all hope for Nashville. A team trip to a U2 concert in Las Vegas was famously cancelled following the embarrassing defeat.

In hindsight, however, that loss was a critical turning point for the better. The Predators immediately went on an 18-game point streak, including 16 wins, that launched them off the seller’s block and into playoff contention. In the end, not only did Nashville get into the Western Conference playoffs, but it clinched the first of two wild cards available.

Now, we get our first Vancouver-Nashville playoff series since 2011, the year the Canucks went on to the Stanley Cup Final. The Canucks may have gone 3-0 against the Predators in the regular season series, but the last of those games was all the way back in December, well before Nashville turned its season around. The Predators are a different team today, and that makes for an intriguing division-winner-versus-wild-card series.

Canucks Outlook: At the start of the season, just getting to the playoffs would have been seen as a success for this group, no matter the result. But as they have overachieved on expectations to clinch first in the Pacific, now a first-round exit could only be considered a disappointment. The outlook has most definitely changed around this team, which will host its first home playoff games in nearly a decade.

After eschewing a traditional rebuild for a quick-turnaround retool that didn’t always inspire belief, this core finally hit its stride in 2023-24. J.T. Miller once again was an offensive leader, eclipsing 100 points for the first time in his career. Quinn Hughes has to be the favourite for the Norris Trophy, as he got to 91 points, and he comes together to make a heck of a duo with partner Filip Hronek. After a personally tough couple of years, Brock Boeser rediscovered his goal-scoring upside and wound up with his first 40-goal season. Demko should get some Vezina love and could at least be a finalist. Oh, and we haven’t yet mentioned Elias Pettersson, who signed a long-term extension in the middle of the season and was the team’s third-highest scorer.

There will be some questions about this group, and if it’s ready to match up and compete with some of the West’s other big contenders who have had more recent post-season experience. But part of Vancouver’s formula this season has been toughness from corners of the roster, with the likes of Miller, Dakota Joshua, Sam Lafferty and Nikita Zadorov not shy about playing the heavy game. Sometimes that can be a missing element for a team taking its first steps as a contender, but that’s not the case for the Canucks.

Vancouver has been one of the best stories and most surprising teams this season. Now, expectation and hope in the market is sky-high — especially for at least one series win.

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Predators Outlook: For all the momentum Nashville gained in February and March, its finish left something to be desired. Going 4-5-1 in their last 10 games, all four of those victories came against non-playoff teams, while the playoff teams the Predators did face in that stretch outscored them 16-7 in four games. The question had to be asked: Did they peak too early?

It turns out that, although their offence hasn’t scored as efficiently to end the season, the quality of chances they’ve earned has actually improved. The sore spot, it seems, is on defence — an odd note for a Nashville team — as the Preds allowed among the most high-quality chances against down the stretch and had real issues protecting the slot.

Usually, that could reliably be patched over by star goalie Saros, and while that very well could still be the case as this series plays out, it’s been notable that the Finn has not played up to his usual dominant standard this season. Saros finished with a .902 save percentage and 2.86 GAA that were both the worst marks of his career, and he finished 69th of 98 goalies in MoneyPuck’s Goals Saved Above Expected. He was, however, better in 5-on-5 play.

But make no mistake: This will be no “waste of eight days” like the last time the Predators reached the playoffs in 2022 and were swiftly bounced by the eventual champion Colorado Avalanche. These Predators have a lot going for them. Filip Forsberg had a career year, just shy of 50 goals and 100 points; Roman Josi finished over a point-per-game pace for the second time in his career; and Ryan O’Reilly is still a menacing defensive presence who also saw an uptick in offence.

Though Barry Trotz is the GM, this Andrew Brunette-coached team plays a different style than the organization is traditionally known for, as it finished top 10 in shots for and bottom 10 in shots against. How will that translate in the playoffs? We’re about to find out.


(5-on-5 totals via Natural Stat Trick)


Canucks X-Factor: With Demko returning for just two regular season games after his March injury, his readiness and effectiveness will be a storyline, and there’s no question the star goalie needs to be a positive force. But when all three of their centres — Pettersson, Miller and Elias Lindholm — are healthy and humming, that’s where the Canucks could get an important positional advantage on any opponent. The X-Factor here, then, is Lindholm, who was an expensive trade pick-up in January, started slow, got injured and returned to the lineup for four April games, where he logged a goal and two assists. An effective Lindholm as your 3C is quite the depth to have at centre, so if he performs, the Canucks will be an even more dangerous opponent.

Predators X-Factor: This will be Saros, for all the reasons outlined above. We’ve gotten used to him being a reliable, game-stealing netminder and the Predators stand no chance if he’s got a negative Goals Saved Above Expected rate, as he did all season. Heck, the only reason the Predators even made the playoffs in 2022 was because of his award-worthy play. With Nashville pivoting to a more offensive unit that allows more shots and quality looks against this season, it depends even more on Saros to make up on the back end. In Round 1, the Predators are facing one of the NHL’s better offences that will surely put Saros to the test.


Vancouver Canucks

Pius Suter-J.T. Miller-Brock Boeser
Nils Hoglander-Elias Pettersson-Ilya Mikheyev
Dakota Joshua-Elias Lindholm-Conor Garland
Vasily Podkolzin-Teddy Blueger-Sam Lafferty

Quinn Hughes-Filip Hronek
Carson Soucy-Tyler Myers
Ian Cole-Nikita Zadorov

Thatcher Demko
Casey DeSmith

Nashville Predators

Filip Forsberg-Ryan O’Reilly-Gustav Nyquist
Jason Zucker-Colton Sissons-Mark Jankowski
Anthony Beauvillier-Tommy Novak-Luke Evangelista
Cole Smith-Michael McCarron-Kiefer Sherwood

Ryan McDonagh-Roman Josi
Jeremy Lauzon-Alexandre Carrier
Spencer Stastney-Luke Schenn

Juuse Saros
Kavin Lankinen

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