NHL: Central Division Playoff Preview
The 2019 NHL Playoffs kick off on Wednesday with 16 teams all trying to win the Stanley Cup. Here is a preview of the Central Division playoff bracket matchups, players to keep an eye on, and predictions:
Nashville Predators versus Dallas Stars
The Nashville Predators (47-29-6) come into this series fresh off winning the Central Division. Ryan Johansen leads the team in points with 64, 50 of those being assists. However, what has made the Predators dangerous this season is their defense.
Nashville averages 2.59 goals against per game which is good for third in the league. P.K. Subban anchors a solid defensive core that can take over games and control their own zone. Pekka Rinne has been solid all year, finishing in the top 10 in goals against average. If Nashville has trouble scoring, Rinne will keep them in games.
The Dallas Stars (43-32-7) finished fourth in the Central Division and secured the first wildcard spot in the Western Conference. Tyler Seguin finished the year with 80 points, 33 goals and 47 assists. Look for him to continue leading the Stars attack.
Dallas also prides itself on defense, finishing second in the NHL in goals against average with 2.59. Ben Bishop has been rock solid all year long, leading the league with a save percentage of .934. He will make it difficult for Nashville to put pucks in the back of the net.
Expect this series to be relatively low scoring. Both teams excel in the defensive zone and do not give up many goals. Both teams are great on the penalty kill, with Nashville ranking sixth in the NHL and Dallas one spot ahead of them in fifth. Dallas has a much better powerplay than Nashville, so expect Dallas to look to capitalize on any special team’s opportunity.
Nashville can be a very tough place to play in the playoffs. The Predators will look to use that home ice advantage to set the tone early in games one and two. Paired with solid defense and home ice advantage, Nashville will control the pace of the series and come out on top.
Prediction: Nashville over Dallas in five games.
Winnipeg Jets versus St. Louis Blues
The Winnipeg Jets (47-30-5) finished second in the Central Division just one point behind Nashville. Blake Wheeler leads a high-powered offense with 91 points. Look for him to initiate the offense with his stellar play-making ability.
Winnipeg scores an average of 3.29 goals per game which is good for seventh in the NHL. Their powerplay is stellar, scoring on 24.8 percent of their chances. In order for them to win this series, they will need that powerplay to stay hot.
The St. Louis Blue (45-28-9) finished third in the Central Division, tied with Winnipeg with 99 points. Ryan O’Reilly leads the offense with 77 points on the season. St. Louis is an all-around balanced team, playing well on offense and defense
Blues goalie Jordan Binnington leads the NHL in goals against average with 1.89. Look for him to take over games and hold the Winnipeg offense at bay. St. Louis is top 10 in the NHL on both sides of special teams, so look for them to use that to their advantage.
This shapes up to be a very evenly matched series. Both teams are well balanced in both zones. St. Louis will look to exploit Winnipeg’s below average penalty kill and capitalize on the man advantage. The Winnipeg Whiteout will be in full effect, trying to make the most of that home ice advantage.
This series looks like it is built to go to game seven. Neither team has a clear advantage over the other. Winnipeg will try to take advantage of the home ice advantage, but St. Louis’ goaltending and special teams will be too much for them.
Prediction: St. Louis over Winnipeg in seven games.
Predicted Second-Round Matchup: Nashville vs St. Louis
If this is the second-round matchup, Nashville will again look to control the pace of the series. Both teams are solid all-around, but Nashville just has the slight edge. Home ice along with stellar defense will be the difference in this one.
Prediction: Nashville over St. Louis in six games.
Trenton Armstrong is a freshman majoring in telecommunications. To contact him, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.