The Nashville Predators are holding a 2-0 advantage in a playoff series for the first time in their franchise’s history. That’s quite an accomplishment, but it shouldn’t be looked upon as a miracle. Despite how much of the hockey community picked Anaheim to win, this isn’t a David versus Goliath matchup.
Yes, the Ducks were the best team in the league for the last half of the season, but Nashville was right on their heels in that respect. The Predators accomplished a record 13 game point streak on the road this season so winning two games away from Nashville isn’t uncharted waters.
It’s easy to look at Anaheim being at the top of both special teams categories and predict a daunting task for Nashville. The Ducks should have been the favorite, but it was always a closer margin between the teams than many initially realized.
Both teams finished the regular season with nearly identical possession numbers of 52.5 CF% for Nashville and 52.4 CF% by Anaheim. Filip Forsberg was the leading point producer between the two teams, and the Predators employed five of the top eight skaters in that category.
The defense and goaltending of Anaheim is nothing to disregard as they allowed the fewest goals in the NHL during the year. However, the goalie tandem they deployed becomes a tricky scenario of who deserves to start in the playoffs.
Nashville has the more complete defense core that is really hard to prepare for when they pinch down into the zone to make plays so often. The trade for Ryan Johansen cannot be overstated as he leads the playoffs in Shot Attempts Relative (26.6). They simply have never dressed that type of player.
Furthermore, the Ducks have never faced the Predators with a legit top line center. It’s a different animal. In fact, this is probably the most talented team ever compiled in Nashville.
There’s been a lot of talk about the penalties taken by Anaheim in the first two contests. But again, that’s not surprising as the Ducks led the league in penalty minutes with 1023. They may possess the best PK, but it doesn’t matter if you get enough chances on the man advantage.
This isn’t trying to throw shade at everyone picking the Ducks to win the series. They were favored, and there wasn’t any glaring issues in their game. Most people acknowledged Nashville as a good team, but the separation between the two teams was slightly exaggerated.
The series is far from over. Anaheim isn’t going down without a serious fight, and they have the ability to get right back in it with a couple good performances. However, being greatly surprised to the Predators getting off to a great start may be more about their history of being a big underdog than their current on ice product.