If you believe the experts, the Red Wings matchup with the Nashville Predators in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs should come down to goaltending.
The Predators have a goliath in the net – Pekka Rinne – a man who not only looks like he can reach every puck slapped in his direction, but who could also dust the rafters in the arena while he’s at it.
As for the Wings, they have Jimmy Howard, the young goalie who was on pace to break Terry Sawchuck’s team record for wins in a season before he suffered an injury to his finger.
Those are the details that hardcore fans will be watching – the goaltending the play of the defensemen, and the penalty killers. If history serves, it will be an exciting, long series between these two teams with different degrees of hockey history.
Detroit has the classic sweaters, the banners hanging from the rafters in The Joe, iconic heroes, veteran superstars, octopus-tossing fans, and an anthem with the refrain “born and raised in south Detroooooit…”
And what does Nashville have? Does anyone think of ice hockey when they think of Nashville? Well, few outside of the city itself. At heart, Nashville is a football town, in love with their Titans. But just across the river downtown is the hockey arena, which in recent years has been the place to be if you’re a sports fan in Nashville.
if we’re talking country music, fried chicken and gravy, Nashville wins out. But if we’re talking hockey, Detroit has the decided edge in tradition and success. Indeed, the Predators nearly left Nashville before the first puck was dropped in their first season. Then, after five seasons the Predators finally made the playoffs, only to be pushed aside by the Red Wings in six. Four more first round losses followed before Nashville won their first series in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, beating Vancouver last season. But the Predators and coach Barry Trotz (the only man to ever coach the team) have never sniffed the Cup Finals and never advanced past the second round. This season could be the year that they are able to get past the Red Wins, what with Rinne in the net and a physical team in front of him on the ice.
The Wings will have much to say about that. Back in February and March when Detroit set an NHL record for most consecutive wins on home ice, the Wings looked like one of the elite teams in the game. It hasn’t so much been poor play that has led to their late season dip to a 5th seed in the West, as much as it’s been a ridiculous number of injuries to key players. Everyone but the organist seems to have gotten a boo-boo somewhere.
It will be a fascinating series to watch, not just for the matchups on the ice, but also the clash of two franchises: one with a storied history of success and the other trying to establish themselves, and their cowboy-hat loving city, as a hockey haven.