Preds not backing down from Red Wings
NASHVILLE -- The Nashville Predators -- the proverbial David -- are becoming a trendy pick in their Stanley Cup playoff series with the Detroit Red Wings, about as big of a Goliath as has graced the Holy Land of the NHL in recent years.
One of the major reasons is that for the first time in the Predators' 13 seasons is that they finally finished ahead of their Central Division nemesis in the standings.
There also are other significant reasons. Like Detroit's having the league's best home record and 21st road record. With Nashville owning home-ice advantage in the series by virtue of having earned the Western Conference's No. 4 seed, those numbers mean something -- but only if Nashville can hold serve on home ice. (The Preds have far less of a vacillation when they play at home or on the road, with the league's sixth-best home record and eighth-best road record.)
Only one other time in the Preds' history were they the top seed. It was 2007 and the Predators, though they tied for the third-best record in the league, finished as the Western Conference's No. 4 seed and lost through a series of misfortunes in five games to San Jose.
So what does the team make of its status as potential favorites starting on Wednesday in Game 1?
Predators captain Shea Weber said where Nashville is the favorite is "a matter of opinion."
"I think that if anything, they're the favorite in this series and they're the team to beat," he said, "so we're just going day by day and, obviously, it's going to be a long grueling series and we're looking forward to it."
Coach Barry Trotz said that finally finishing above the mighty Red Wings -- the franchise that the Predators essentially have been forced to measure themselves against since entering the league in 1998 -- in the standings meant nothing more than scratching off an item on a to-do list.
"You don't win anything for that, but I've been here a long time and it's the first time that's happened," said Trotz, the only coach in franchise history. "So you put that on your to-do list and 'Hey, got it done' and move on. Now we're going to meet them in the playoffs and we haven't beaten them in the playoffs, so maybe it's our turn."
If so, the season series didn't reveal much. The teams split, 3-3. If one game stands out, it was the Feb. 17 match at Joe Louis Arena, which Detroit won, 2-1. The game was tied with less than a minute remaining in regulation. Nashville had its All-Star duo of defensemen Ryan Suter and Weber on the ice. The Predators won a defensive-zone faceoff, cleared the puck out of their zone and, with just a few ticks left on the clock, the Red Wings' Pavel Datsyuk made a spectacular play to split both Nashville defensemen and score the game-winner.
Asked if that game left a mark on the Preds' collective psyche, goalie Pekka Rinne said he thought it had "zero" effect and pointed out that they won the last two meetings, one at home and one on the road. Rinne doesn't want to apply labels like "underdog" or "favorite" to either team.
"I don't know, I feel," Rinne said. "I feel in here in the locker room, we have high expectations from ourselves and we have a lot of confidence. We know we can play against anybody in this league and be successful, so that's the last thing we're going to do is make excuses for ourselves.
"I don't really care. I think we are a pretty even line with Detroit. I don't want to go and say we are underdogs or they are underdogs. That doesn't really matter. I think we are pretty even with them and just we've been pretty even match-ups throughout the years. Both teams are pretty good at home. It's going to make this series really interesting."
While the Predators are clearly confident in themselves, as Rinne observed, they don't want to say anything to give the impression they are overconfident or worse. As the saying goes in professional wrestling, "To be The Man, you've got to beat The Man" and the Preds know they've never beaten The Man (in the form of the Red Wings in two previous postseason tries). Few are predicting a series of anything less than seven games.
When it's pointed out to Weber that the Preds are at least the favorite by seeding, he chuckled briefly to himself.
"Four- or five-(seed) match-up, though, I think anyone you ask -- ten different people, there's probably five go one way and five go the other," he said. "It's going to be a good series. Any way you look it, it's going to go the distance and it's going to be fun."
After all, the Preds were the No. 5 seed last year in the first round and won their series. David or Goliath, this one might be too even to call.