Published On: Wed, Apr 25th, 2018

Why Predators-Jets will be this year's best playoff series

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We saw it coming from miles away, but now that it’s here, let’s take a moment to appreciate the potential greatness of the second-round series between the Nashville Predators and Winnipeg Jets.

The Western Conference juggernauts were the league’s top two teams at the end of the regular season, and battled tooth and nail for the Central Division crown (the Predators ultimately prevailed by a three-point margin). It’s a shame this clash of titans couldn’t come one round later, but the Preds and Jets each have what it takes to win the Stanley Cup.

Here’s why this will be the playoffs’ best series:

The rosters

Looking at the weapons and balance at all positions on both rosters, it’s easy to see why the Predators and Jets finished where they did.

Each team employs a Vezina Trophy finalist in goal. It’s nearly impossible to determine who has the edge between Pekka Rinne and Connor Hellebuyck, but the Jets’ netminder had the better start to the postseason, recording a .924 save percentage in five games versus the Minnesota Wild.

On the blue line, the Predators are widely considered to have the deepest defensive corps in the league thanks to the vaunted foursome of P.K. Subban, Roman Josi, Mattias Ekholm, and Ryan Ellis. But the Jets are no slouches in this department either, surrendering just 25.2 shots per game in the first round.

Up front, both sides consistently roll four lines that all boast scoring threats. The Predators had six 50-point scorers – although two came from the back end – this season, while the Jets’ offense had four players reach at least 60 points.

The matchups

The emphasis on matchups in the playoffs is one of the most common talking points, and it’s the primary focus for each coaching staff. While it will be much more stressful for Peter Laviolette and Paul Maurice to find ways to exploit and take advantage of their opponents, from a fan’s perspective, watching the Josi-Ellis pairing try to shut down Patrik Laine‘s group, or Subban taking a tall order of Mark Scheifele and Blake Wheeler for four-to-seven games, should provide excellent entertainment value.

In addition to keeping an eye on the personnel chess match, it’ll be interesting to monitor which side can make the right adjustments to win the series. What makes the Predators and Jets so difficult to contain is their ability to beat opponents multiple ways. Each roster has a terrific blend of size, speed, skill, and game-changing special teams, so the margin for error is going to be razor thin as they look to expose their counterparts.

The budding rivalry

Perhaps the most exciting aspect of the Predators-Jets series is that it could be the beginning of a rivalry. The NHL isn’t interested in changing the playoff format, so these two could meet in the postseason for years to come – a la the Penguins and Capitals, who are set to renew hostilities for the third consecutive season on the Eastern side of the bracket.

The Predators and Jets didn’t get here by chance. Both teams have assembled young, cost-efficient rosters that have almost all the key contributors locked in long-term. The Preds earned contender status with a Cup run last season and followed up this year by claiming the Presidents’ Trophy. The Jets, meanwhile, have developed a championship-worthy roster that’s only in its first year of contention. The Cup window for both teams is more open than it is closed.

They say true rivalries aren’t formed until a playoff series is had, but in terms of this year’s regular-season matchups, the Predators came away with the advantage, winning three of five contests. If those games serve as an indicator of what’s to come, the hockey world is in for a treat, as two games were decided by one goal, while four had eight or more goals combined.

(Photos courtesy: Getty Images)

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