Country music, healthcare, and hockey? Thanks to the great play of the Predators, Nashville is slowly but surely becoming a hockey town. The Predators, who will take on the Phoenix Coyotes on Sunday, advanced to the second round of the NHL playoffs for only the third time in club history.
The Predators should be considered a legitimate threat in the West. They knocked off the Detroit Red Wings in the first round. Granted it was a Red Wings team that was coming to the end of their dynasty, but still a team known throughout the hockey world as a tough opponent. They did so by being physical, playing great team defense, and having stellar goaltending.
The Predators have two of the most talented and physical defensemen in the game in assistant captain Ryan Suter and captain Shea Weber. The 27-year-old Suter had a career high 46 points and was a +15 in 79 regular season games. Weber, who is one of the finalists for the Norris Trophy as the league’s best defenseman, scored 19 goals and had 30 assists and finished the season with a +21 rating, the best of his seven year career. The 26-year-old Weber, who is averaging 27 minutes of ice time per game, has two goals in five postseason games this year.
Nashville’s goalie Pekka Rinne is starting to get the recognition he deserves throughout the league. Rinne is a finalist for the Vezina Trophy, which is awarded annually to the league’s best goaltender. He posted a 43-18-8 record with five shutouts and a 2.39 GAA. The 43 wins were the most of his career. Except for a shaky Game 2, which saw him stop 14 out of 17 shots and resulted in Nashville’s only loss of the series, he has been virtually unbeatable. He is sporting a .961 save percentage since the terrible Game 2 outing.
The Predators will need to continue to play a strong defensive style of hockey and get excellent goaltending in order to beat the Phoenix Coyotes and advance to the Western Conference Finals. Something says that Suter, Weber, and Rinne will be up to the challenge.