RED WINGS (48-28-6) at PREDATORS (48-26-8)
TV: CNBC, CBC, RDS2, FS-D (HD), SPSO (HD)
Last 10: Detroit 4-4-2; Nashville 6-4-0
Season Series: Each team went 2-1 on home ice to split the six-game season series, but the Predators took the last two games -- including a 4-1 win on March 30 at Joe Louis Arena. In that game, Nashville built a 3-0 lead early in the third and closed it out despite allowing Jiri Hudler
Big Story: This is the third time the Predators have faced the Red Wings in Nashville's eighth trip to the Stanley Cup Playoffs, with Detroit taking the first two in six games each (2004 and 2008). This is a different kind if Predators team, however. This one has already won a playoff series and seems primed to make a deep postseason run thanks to a number of late-season moves – including trades that added veteran experience on the back end in Hal Gill plus some grit and offense up front in Paul Gaustad and Andrei Kostitsyn. The Preds also convinced skilled forward and former top pick Alexander Radulov to return from Russia and join the quest for the Stanley Cup. Detroit still has its usual cast of star characters like Nicklas Lidstrom
, Henrik Zetterberg
, Pavel Datsyuk
and others but stumbled into the playoffs a bit while recovering from a spate of late-season injuries.
Red Wings: A big question for Detroit is whether injured third-line center Darren Helm
(sprained MCL) will be available for Wednesday's Game 1 at Bridgestone Arena or if he'll have to wait until Game 2.
Helm has said the target date is Game 2 or 3, but hasn’t ruled out the series opener just yet. When he returns and to what extent his speed game will be as effective as before remain question marks. Lidstrom is also still slowed by a deep ankle bruise that kept him out for a career-high 11 straight games down the stretch and Johan Franzen
might still be battling soreness from back spasms that sidelined him late in the season. The Red Wings also never figured out their season-long struggles away from Joe Louis Arena, where they went 17-21-3 on the road.
"Have I really been thinking that we're underdogs? Not really,'' Red Wings goalie Jimmy Howard
told Mlive.com's Ansar Khan this week. "I still think we're one of the better teams in the League. It just happens that we hit a stretch that wasn't very kind to us.''
Predators: After dropping a disappointing 5-4 loss to the Chicago Blackhawks on March 31 at home, Nashville (104 points) reeled off three straight wins to conclude the regular season and finish ahead of Detroit in both the Western Conference and Central Division standings. The Preds also gave up just five goals in those three games and goalie Pekka Rinne finished with the League lead in wins with 43. Now, Nashville is ready to prove the Music City is also "Hockeytown South," as coach Barry Trotz put it recently. Backed by the improved offense, plus Rinne and the outstanding top defense pair of Ryan Suter and Shea Weber, the Preds want to prove they are worth the hype. Gill, however, has a lower-body injury that's becoming a bit worrisome. After missing the last game of the regular season, the 6-foot-7 defenseman missed practices on Monday and Tuesday.
"He's a big part the last few weeks and since the trading deadline," Preds defenseman Shea Weber told the Tennessean on Tuesday. "If he's ready to go, we're excited and if not, we have a deep enough team this year where we can fill spots and be ready to go."
Who's Hot: Jiri Hudler
has four goals and four assists in the past 10 games for the Red Wings; Andrei Kostitsyn has recorded points in six of the past eight games for the Preds, including one goal and five assists. Rinne hasn’t allowed a goal in the last 38 shots he's faced.
Injury Report: Patrick Eaves
(concussion) and Joey MacDonald
(back) are out, while Danny Cleary
(knee soreness) and Helm (knee sprain) are questionable for Detroit; Radulov, Brandon Yip and goalie Anders Lindback (upper body) all missed Monday's practice but returned on Tuesday and are expected to play for Nashville. Gill (lower body/foot) missed both practice sessions and is questionable.
Stat Pack: Detroit was penalized an average of 8.5 minutes per game, which was the second least in the NHL, behind only Nashville (8.4 PIM); The Preds finished with the League's best power play (21.6 percent) and ranked second overall with a 35-3-4 mark when scoring first.
Puck Drop: In addition to the traditional playoff beard, Nashville's Francis Bouillon is sporting a Mohawk haircut to match that of his defense partner, Kevin Klein – who's worn his for about a month.
"[Klein] had it before and I told him if we go to the playoffs I'm going to do it too," Bouillon told the Tennessean. "So now we're playing together and we're a real pair."