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GAME: Nashville Predators (38-29-11-4) at Detroit Red Wings (48-21-11-2).
PLAYOFF SERIES: Western Conference quarterfinals; Game 1.
TIME: Wednesday, 7 p.m. EDT.
Although they'll be facing an unheralded goaltender who can get hot, the Detroit Red Wings are not expected to have trouble getting past the opening round.
Sounds a lot like last year.
While Detroit's goaltending situation remains unsettled, the Nashville Predators are counting on Tomas Vokoun as the franchise gets its first taste of the playoffs and tries to hand the Red Wings a second straight early exit.
Just as it was last season, Detroit enters its Western Conference quarterfinal series as a heavy favorite. This season, the Wings won the Presidents' Trophy with a league-best 109 points and are facing a Nashville team appearing in the postseason for the first time in its six-year history.
"We have to be ready. Putting pressure on them right off the bat, winning the first game, getting some momentum," Detroit defenseman Chris Chelios said. "There's a lot to be said for that. You want to win the first game. That's basically our mindset right now, and get started. Especially after the way things went last year."
Detroit was stunned by Jean-Sebastien Giguere and the Anaheim Mighty Ducks in last season's opening round, scoring just six goals as it was swept in four games. The Wings had won the Central Division and were seeded second but were shut down by Giguere, who went on to lead Anaheim to the Stanley Cup finals and earn the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP.
Like Giguere last season, Vokoun is appearing in the playoffs for the first time.
A first-time All-Star this season, Vokoun carried the Predators to the postseason as he started all but nine of their games. His 34 victories tied for third-best in the league.
"He's wrong-handed," Detroit coach Dave Lewis said of Vokoun's style of catching with his right hand instead of his left. "That fools guys sometimes. He seems to be big in net."
The netminder Lewis will rely on in this series remains in question.
Manny Legace will start Game 1, with Curtis Joseph having not played since March 21 due to an injured ankle. Joseph went through a full practice Monday, meaning he could regain the starting job in this series, especially if Legace struggles.
While Joseph has appeared in 10 postseasons, the 31-year-old Legace has just over 10 minutes of playoff experience.
"I'm going to try to treat Game 1 like it's another game, but obviously it's going to be different," Legace said. "Every shot, stop and moment is important."
Joseph is among a bevy of Detroit veterans, including Steve Yzerman, Brendan Shanahan and Brett Hull, with a wealth of postseason experience.
Nashville has very few such players. Predators winger Scott Walker had gone 574 games without appearing in the playoffs, which had been the NHL's second-longest active drought.
"We're still going to try our best," said Walker, Nashville's all-time leading scorer. "We're just not going to throw our stuff on the ice and leave it at that. We know what we have to do. I still like our chances to surprise them."
Walker joins Steve Sullivan on a top line that must produce if the Predators are to have a chance. Walker had four goals and five assists in the final eight games of the season to finish with a career-high 67 points. Sullivan had 30 points in 24 games with Nashville after being acquired from Chicago on Feb. 16.
Detroit has many dangerous offensive weapons.
Pavel Datsyuk may be the hottest, totaling five goals and two assists in the final seven games to finish tied with Hull for second on the team with 68 points. Datsyuk had no points and a minus-3 rating in last season's first round.
The Predators did not clinch a playoff berth until the second-to-last game of the season. They went through a seven-game winless streak before closing the season with a 5-2-0-1 stretch.
"It is a good feeling for us," Predators coach Barry Trotz said. "I don't think anybody thought that we would be able to pull it off back in September."
With its speed and attacking style, Nashville has shown it can compete with a slower Detroit squad. The Predators won the first three meetings, but lost the last three.
Nashville had won only once in 14 trips to Detroit (1-10-2-1) before winning there Nov. 8.
Game 2 is Saturday in Detroit before the series continues in Nashville the following day.
HOW THEY GOT HERE: Predators - 91 points, 8th seed. Red Wings - 109 points, 1st seed.
TEAM LEADERS: Predators - Walker, 25 goals; Sullivan, 49 assists and 73 points; Jordin Tootoo, 137 PIM. Red Wings - Robert Lang and Datsyuk, 30 goals; Lang, 49 assists and 79 points; Shanahan, 117 PIM.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Predators - Power play: 16.8 percent (72 for 428), 11th in NHL. Penalty killing: 81.8 percent (287 for 351), 24th. Red Wings - Power play: 20.1 percent (63 for 314), 5th. Penalty killing: 86.8 percent (275 for 317), 1st.
GOALTENDERS: Predators - Vokoun (34-29-10, 3 SO, 2.53 GAA); Chris Mason (4-4-1, 1, 2.18). Red Wings - Legace (23-10-5, 3, 2.12); Joseph (16-10-3, 2, 2.39).
REGULAR SEASON SERIES: Predators, 3-2-0-1. Detroit scored 13 goals in winning the last three matchups. Vokoun was pulled in two of those three after allowing just six goals on 79 shots in the first three games. Joseph went 2-3 with a 2.21 GAA in five starts, while Legace allowed one goal in winning his lone outing against Nashville. Shanahan had five goals and two assists in the series, while no Predator had more than two goals.
|Apr 17 '04||DET 2 at NSH 0||R. Whitney|
|Apr 15 '04||NSH 1 at DET 4||B. Hull|
|Apr 13 '04||DET 0 at NSH 3||S. Sullivan|
|Apr 11 '04||DET 1 at NSH 3||A. Hall|
|Apr 10 '04||NSH 1 at DET 2||M. Schneider|
|Apr 07 '04||NSH 1 at DET 3||T. Holmstrom|
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