Second-Round Preview: St. Louis Blues v Nashville Predators

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Why you have to watch: Two flawed teams that at various points during the season looked like they might miss the playoffs entirely rebounded to blow through higher seeds in the first round. … The Nashville Predators were the darlings of training camp after acquiring former Norris Trophy winner P.K. Subban last offseason, but staggered through the first half before playing their best hockey down the stretch and then shocking the Central Division-champion Chicago Blackhawks in four games, allowing the powerful Blackhawks just three goals in the series. … Led by one of the most dynamic forward lines in the game — Filip Forsberg, Ryan Johansen and Viktor Arvidsson — the Predators outscored Chicago 13-3. … The Blues continued their stingy ways under head coach Mike Yeo, who took over for Ken Hitchcock on Feb. 1 and compiled the best record (22-8-2) in the league down the stretch. … The Blues scored first in four of the five games in their first-round series against the Minnesota Wild, winning all four of those games behind the stellar goaltending of Jake Allen and with an opportunistic offense.

Head to head: The Predators edged the Blues 3-2 during the season, but four of those games took place before the Blues’ coaching change, so those results are meaningless. … What is more interesting is that the Predators, who have never faced the Blues in the postseason, have never advanced beyond the second round, while the Blues are looking to advance to the Western Conference finals for the second straight year as they look for their first Stanley Cup in their 50-year history.

Injury fallout: Blues C Paul Stastny returned Saturday since suffering a foot injury on March 21 and chipped in a goal while playing 22:42. He’ll provide important scoring depth for a Blues team that figures to be challenged offensively more against the Predators. … Nashville W Colin Wilson missed the first round after suffering a lower-body injury in early April. No word on when he might return. Wilson had 13 points in 14 games for the Preds in last year’s playoffs. … He’s not returning from injury, but Vladimir Sobotka’s return to the Blues near the end of the regular season after playing in the Kontinental Hockey League for the past three seasons paid immediate dividends, as he had a goal and two assists in the first round. Sobotka helped set up the OT winner in Game 5 and has found his way onto both the power-play and the penalty-killing units.


Goalie advantage:
This should be dynamite. Both Allen and Pekka Rinne of the Predators entered the first round with much to prove, given previous playoff inconsistencies, and both helped rewrite their own playoff narrative. … Rinne, a three-time Vezina Trophy nominee, allowed just three goals on 126 shots for a .976 save percentage against the dynastic Blackhawks, while Allen turned in a .956 save percentage, and his play in staking the Blues to a 3-0 series lead while allowing just three goals was critical. … Ordinarily this would be a big edge for Nashville, but I thought the same thing when Allen faced the Wild’s Devan Dubnyk in the first round.

Coaching advantage:
Midseason replacements don’t usually get much Jack Adams Award love (see Mike Sullivan of the Pittsburgh Penguins a year ago), but Yeo’s work in transforming a sluggish Blues team into a cohesive unit that is among the most difficult to play against deserves admiration, if not hardware. … Predators coach Peter Laviolette is one of the most successful U.S.-born coaches of all time, and he’s got his veteran crew playing with an impressive business-like attitude. … Scouts and analysts praised Laviolette’s game plan that denied the talented Blackhawks quality chances in the first round, forcing them to generate much of their attack from the perimeter.

Prediction:
Johansen and Forsberg each had 11 points in the first round and each recorded at least a point in all four games, while 14 Predators recorded at least a point in the first round. This should be fun, and the Music City party doesn’t stop here.

Courtesy of Scott Burnside
ESPN Senior Writer

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