Final Stretch Drive: On The Way To Detroit
Thursday, 03.29.2012 / 3:42 PM
As the plane heads towards Detroit, I'm thinking of a few things on our way.
Probably the most obvious one is that this game tomorrow night is Nashville's most likely first-round playoff matchup. Of course home ice is yet to be determined, and you never know what Chicago might pull off, but it certainly appears that the Preds and Red Wings are destined for one another right now. Nashville is a few key players away from being 100% healthy, but both Roman Josi and Martin Erat are on the trip (playing status for both will likely be better understood tomorrow). Getting Erat back up front would be a big boost for the Predators against Detroit. He's the type of player you tend to appreciate more when he's out of the lineup because he can fool you into complacency with his consistent effort and two-way play while chipping in offensively. You just tend to rely on him without realizing it.
Josi will also be a nice add on defense where the pairs have been jumbled for some time, first because of the absence of Kevin Klein and now Josi. Being able to reset Josi with Gill (likely) and Klein with Bouillon will provide stability for the Preds, and also give the second power play unit yet another option on the point or the ability to use two defensemen if Ryan Ellis is in the lineup.
The Wings are a team that has been almost mirroring the Predators lately, including a small slide over the last few weeks combined with trying to get over some nagging injuries and settle into a rhythm for the playoffs. Certainly Detroit will need Jimmy Howard to be at his level best in the playoffs, and while Zetterberg and Datsyuk are the main difference makers I think any run the Red Wings make will key around the play of the 3-6 defensive spots and contributions from players like Todd Bertuzzi and Jiri Hudler. It will be the supporting cast that has to pull together for the Wings to really make a run. Maybe a Holmstrom or Franzen takes over a series? There's a precedent in place that when Detroit wins, it's because they had someone else rise to the level of its top players to propel the club through four rounds.
Don't think there isn't a lesson in there for Nashville either. Sure, you expect Suter and Weber to excel on D, and for the guys like Erat, Fisher and Hornqvist to score. But who is this year's Joel Ward? One of the Kostitsyn brothers (how about both!)? Alex Radulov? Matt Halischuk? Brandon Yip? Someone must make those key contributions. Depth must be effective and on top of its game. I lump Radulov into that category and perhaps unfairly, as certainly the expectations will be that he is among the leading playoff scorers. But in the sense that he's still one of the adds for down the stretch, if he does contribute on a top level he will be one of those people that raises his game at the right time.
Let's face it, this is a chance for anyone to etch his name into the history books, and onto the most storied trophy in all of team sports.
Until next time, keep your stick on the ice.