In a span of about 30 minutes late Sunday afternoon the Nashville Predators’ playoff picture came into focus.
It happened incrementally, but each subsequent development in two contests on an action-packed final day of the NHL regular season – one day after the Predators’ season-ending 2-1 shootout victory over St. Louis – provided a bit more clarity.
• When Los Angeles won on Dustin Brown’s goal 1:31 into overtime, it guaranteed Nashville could finish no higher than sixth in the Western Conference.
• When Detroit and Chicago finished regulation tied and the Red Wings were guaranteed at least one point, it meant the Predators would finish seventh. Still, their first-round opponent was yet to be determined,
• Then when the Red Wings won on Brad Stuart’s goal 3:11 into the extra period, it meant the Blackhawks finished one point behind San Jose, second overall in the West, and made them the team Nashville would face.
“It was exciting in a lot of areas,” Nashville coach Barry Trotz said.
The series will start in Chicago with Games 1 and 2 on Friday and Sunday, respectively. The first meeting at Bridgestone Arena will be Game 3 on Sunday.
The complete series schedule is as follows (all times CDT):
Friday at Chicago, 7:30 p.m.
Sunday at Chicago, 7:30 p.m
April 20 at Nashville, 8 p.m.
April 22 at Nashville, 7:30 p.m.
x- April 24 at Chicago, 2 p.m.
x- April 26 at Nashville, TBD
x- April 28 at Chicago, TBD
Had the Blackhawks won Sunday's contest, the Predators’ playoff foe would have been San Jose, a team they faced twice in their four previous appearances. The Sharks won both series’ in five games.
Not only has Nashville never faced Chicago in the postseason, it has not played the Blackhawks since Dec. 27.
The Central Division rivals completed their six-game series within the first three months of the season. Chicago won four of those six, including the last one, 5-4. The Predators were outscored a total of 15-12 in those games. Each team had one shutout.
“It will be interesting,” Trotz said. “It will be almost like we’re playing out of conference because we haven’t played them (lately). They’re a really good hockey team. … They have some dynamic players, and we’re a much different hockey team than the last time they’ve seen us.”
Since their last meeting the Predators went 25-15-3, while Chicago went 26-13-5 – a difference of four points in favor of the Blackhawks, who played one more game.
“I don’t think it really matters (who we play) at this point,” defenseman Shea Weber said Saturday. “Anyone who’s in the playoffs has a chance to win the Stanley Cup. Nobody has any wins or any losses. It’s all even now.”