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NHL.com: Defense will be the difference for Nashville

Friday, 04.11.2008 / 10:22 PM CT / Features
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NHL.com: Defense will be the difference for Nashville

If Nashville is going to upset Detroit in round 1, their defense must step up to Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg. Suter highlight video
Three days before the Western Conference quarterfinal series between Nashville and Detroit began, veteran NBC and TSN broadcaster Pierre McGuire pinpointed what he thought the Predators needed most to pull the upset.

"I think the three young defensemen, when you talk about Shea Weber, Ryan Suter and Danny Hamhuis, are going to have to step up huge on (Pavel) Datsyuk and (Henrik) Zetterberg," McGuire said. "Especially Shea Weber. He's got to be a physical presence throughout the entire series. He just brings it all the time."

One game into the series, McGuire appears dead on. The reason Detroit won the series opener, 3-1, was because of a fortunate play by Datsyuk and Zetterberg that resulted in the game-winning goal.

Datsyuk and Zetterberg prevented Weber from clearing the puck. Datsyuk then had the puck come to him with Zetterberg dashing toward the slot. He made a cross-ice pass to Zetterberg, who one-timed the puck into the back of the net.

Game 2 is Saturday, when NBC debuts its 2008 National Hockey League playoff coverage. It represents another chance for Nashville's young blueliners to be the difference in what could turn into a long series.

"I like Pierre's comment about the three big Ds because they're the guys that are going to have to make a difference, and I love watching Weber play," NBC and Versus play-by-play specialist Mike “Doc” Emrick said. "We like collisions and we like guys that can generate them, and it'll be interesting to see because they do have that bucketload of adrenaline and character."

The broadcasters, including Mike Milbury and Don Cherry, who all were on a conference call Monday, hit on many bits and pieces of what could be interesting subplots in this 1 vs. 8 series between the Presidents' Trophy winners and one of the final teams to clinch a playoff berth.

However, the goaltenders – Detroit's veteran Dominik Hasek and Nashville's young Dan Ellis – generated the most discussion.

"Is Hasek going to be able to perform at the level that he has done in the past and drive them deep into the playoffs?" Milbury asked. "If he can't, with (Chris) Osgood, they've been just OK. But I think a rested Hasek should be OK for Detroit, certainly good enough to beat Nashville."

Hasek was just fine Thursday, stopping 19 of 20 shots. Cherry, the outlandish CBC commentator, also is curious to see how Hasek will hold up.

"I would say that Hasek doesn't seem as though he's got that bounce," Cherry said. "He's stopping pucks, don't get me wrong, but remember when he was with Buffalo and they went to the Final and he was out challenging guys and yelling at the referees? This year he doesn't seem the same guy.

"If he's on, they're home-free as far as I'm concerned, but he's got to be on."

Ellis was peppered with 39 shots and brushed aside 37, but he stood strong in the second period by stopping all 17 of Detroit's shots. The Red Wings held a 13-3 advantage in the third to put the game away.

Ellis's performance didn't in any way shock Emrick, who spent a portion of the conference call praising the 27-year-old, who grabbed hold of the starting job right around February, when Nashville began its playoff push.

Ellis went 4-0-1 down the stretch, including 2-0-1 with two shutouts and a 0.33 goals-against average from March 25-30 to earn the NHL Second Star of the Week honors. He finished the season 23-10-3 with a 2.34 GAA, pretty good for a guy who spent three years in college and four in the minors, save for a one-game stint with Dallas in 2003-04, before making it big in the NHL.

"We've had some goaltenders that have come in and have been really strong with long undefeated streaks at the beginning of their careers, but this guy is not 22 now," Emrick said. "He's a college guy that's had some seasoning in the pros before he came in, and to catch on at just the right time when Nashville needed him to get into the playoffs and to fight their way in, I think that's the impressive test that he's had to go through.

"The pressure of playing Detroit is probably going to be equivalent to what he's had the last couple of weeks. To register what he did, and be an NHL Player of the Week two weeks from the end when it really is crunch time for his team, I think that's impressive."

The pressure, though, mounts Saturday as Nashville must win to avoid falling into the dreaded 0-2 hole before heading back into its own building.

Contact Dan Rosen at drosen@nhl.com.

Author: Dan Rosen | NHL.com Staff Writer





1 z - DAL 82 50 23 9 267 230 109
2 x - STL 82 49 24 9 224 201 107
3 x - CHI 82 47 26 9 235 209 103
4 y - ANA 82 46 25 11 218 192 103
5 x - LAK 82 48 28 6 225 195 102
6 x - SJS 82 46 30 6 241 210 98
7 x - NSH 82 41 27 14 228 215 96
8 x - MIN 82 38 33 11 216 206 87
9 COL 82 39 39 4 216 240 82
10 ARI 82 35 39 8 209 245 78
11 WPG 82 35 39 8 215 239 78
12 CGY 82 35 40 7 231 260 77
13 VAN 82 31 38 13 191 243 75
14 EDM 82 31 43 8 203 245 70


F. Forsberg 82 33 31 1 64
R. Josi 81 14 47 -3 61
J. Neal 82 31 27 27 58
S. Weber 78 20 31 -7 51
M. Ribeiro 81 7 43 11 50
C. Smith 82 21 16 4 37
M. Ekholm 82 8 27 14 35
R. Johansen 42 8 26 10 34
R. Ellis 79 10 22 13 32
C. Jarnkrok 81 16 14 1 30
P. Rinne 34 21 10 .908 2.48
C. Hutton 7 5 4 .918 2.33