It does not happen as often as the sun rises. Or as rarely as Haley’s Comet comes around.
More and more, though, first-round playoff matchups between the Nashville Predators and Detroit Red Wings seem just as predictable.
The Predators made their NHL postseason debut against the Red Wings in 2004. Since then, every four years and every third playoff appearance has been a matchup with the Red Wings, whose presence in the postseason is even easier to forecast.
The difference in this case is that – for the first time – Nashville has the home-ice advantage. The series begins Wednesday at Bridgestone Arena (7 p.m., CNBC) and continues Friday (6:30 p.m., CNBC).
The NHL released its complete NHL playoff schedule Sunday.
“They’re an outstanding organization,” Nashville coach Barry Trotz said Sunday afternoon. “They’ve been the standard in the league for a long time. … They’ve got some people that have great playoff experience, guys like [Nicklas] Lidstrom and [Pavel] Datsyuk. Those are going to be Hall of Fame players and they’re game-breakers still at this time.
“They’ve gone through the wars. They have a lot of experience.”
The Red Wings are in the postseason for the 21st straight season.
The latest Nashville-Detroit matchup was guaranteed Saturday afternoon when the Red Wings lost to Chicago in a shootout. Even with nothing at stake, the Predators went out that night and whipped the Colorado Avalanche 6-1 and finished with as many victories (48) and two more points that Detroit. The Predators and Red Wings split their regular-season series at three games apiece.
The first two postseason encounters (in 2004 and 2008) played out in a way Nashville would rather not repeat. Each opened in Detroit and both times the Red Wings won Games 1 and 2. After the Predators evened things with a pair of victories at home, they dropped two straight and were eliminated in six games.
“I can tell you the gap from the last two times we played them [in the postseason] is narrowed,” Trotz said. “I think we were serious underdogs in both those series.
“… [Now] our depth is really good. Guys are understanding how we’re going to have to play. … You look at the top 10 teams in the National Hockey League there’s not much difference in that group. And I feel we’re in that group.”
The home-ice advantage offers the possibility of change as well.
Detroit had the league’s best home record during the regular season (31-7-3) and set a record for the longest home win streak in league history. Nashville is winless and has been outscored 18-7 in six all-time playoff games at Joe Louis Arena.
The Predators have had home ice for a playoffs series once previously, and it did not make much of a difference then. That was in 2007 when they finished fourth in the West and faced San Jose in the opening round. The Sharks won two of three in Nashville and ended the series in five games.
“Back when we played the Sharks it seemed like a lot more pressure,” Trotz said. “I don’t know if we knew how to deal with it yet. We had a great regular season, but I don’t know if we were built for the playoffs or understood the ‘wow’ factor of the playoffs.
“Everything is going to get ramped up to an unbelievable level and if you haven’t experienced it, it really can be overwhelming. … I just feel it’s different. We’ve gone through the experiences more. I think we can deal with it more. We’re not getting thrown off by it as much as we used to.”
They hope not to repeat the experience of being thrown out by the Red Wings.
PREDATORS vs. RED WINGS
Game 1: Wednesday at Nashville, 7 p.m. (CNBC)
Game 2: Friday at Nashville, 6:30 p.m. (CNBC)
Game 3: Sunday at Detroit, 11 a.m. (NBC)
Game 4: April 17 at Detroit, 6:30 p.m. (NBC Sports Network)
Game 5: April 20 at Nashville, 7 p.m. (CNBC), if necessary
Game 6: April 22 at Detroit, time TBD, if necessary
Game 7: April 24 at Nashville, time TBD, if necessary