by Taylor Parks
The Nashville Predators are on an absolute tear this season and are on pace to have their best point season in franchise history. With 10 games remaining, the Predators have 106 points, a mere 4 points from the franchise record set by the 06-07 Predators who ended with 110 points. The good news doesn’t stop there. The Predators are 10 points ahead of the Winnipeg Jets who are 2nd in the Central division, 9 points ahead of the Golden Knights who are 2nd in the Western Conference, and sit alone atop of the NHL, 4 points ahead of the Tampa Bay Lightning. The NHL playoffs are less than a month away and the Predators are on top of nearly every NHL Power Rankings list and have gone 15 straight games getting at least a point. So the question looms, “Should the Predators be scared?”
Who are the teams best suited to take down the hottest team in the NHL? Who should Nashville be rooting against during the playoff run? Following are three teams (two from the West and one from the East) that I believe have the best shot at taking down the mighty Preds.
Winnipeg Jets (43-19-10)
In a year when the Chicago Blackhawks are completely irrelevant (I can’t say this without a smile on my face), the Winnipeg Jets have emerged as Nashville’s biggest rival this season. Since the all-star break, Nashville and Winnipeg have run away with the Central division and have been jockeying for the number one spot. As of late, the Predators have taken a stranglehold on the division and have a 10 point lead on the Jets. They also are 3-1 record against the Jets, so why should there be concern?
The Jets arguably have the best depth in the league behind the Preds, and boast two of the top point getters in the league in Blake Wheeler (80) and Patrik Laine (68) and have been riding the hot play of Connor Hellebuyck. Yes the Predators have had their number this year, but the Jets have also been injury riddled the past month. Much like the Preds, if the Jets are injury free they can best anyone on any night. The Jets don’t have as much defensive depth as Nashville, but if the Preds run into a hot Connor Hellebuyck, it could spell doom for the Preds.
Colorado Avalanche (39-25-8)
Don’t start laughing yet. The Avalanche have been the surprise team in the league and have continued to win despite the doubters among the NHL. At the time of writing this, the Avalanche have the top Wild Card spot in the west and have gone 6-1-3 in their last ten games. Despite all of the odds against them they could sneak into the playoffs and might cause some serious damage.
This Avalanche team is led by Hart Trophy candidate Nathan MacKinnon, who is third in the league in points at 83 and is helped by Mikko Rantanen. The Avalanche have two veteran goalies in Semyon Varlamov and Jonathan Bernier and a lot of young talent on the defensive end. Yes the have an 0-4 record against the Predators, but they are young, fast, and the underdog. If anyone knows what it’s like the be an underdog, you don’t have to look any further than the Predators of last year. Anyone in the playoffs have a puncher’s chance, and I’m afraid the Avalanche could catch the Predators napping.
Boston Bruins (45-17-9)
I’m sure most people would assume that this spot would be taken by the Pittsburgh Penguins, but this Bruins teams scares me much worse. Led by the loveable Brad “The Ray” Marchand and David Pastrnak, the Bruins have gone on an absolute tear going 16-7 since February 1st and 7-2-1 in their last 10.
The Bruins have everything the Predators do: speed, grit, and goaltending. They have a game changer in Marchand and reliability in net with Tuukka Rask. The Bruins are also responsible for one of Nashville’s 14 regulation losses and that came on opening night. Yes the Predators are a different team since then, but so are the Bruins who have added Rick Nash to their forward group. If they come out of the Eastern Conference, they will be battle tested and primed to take on the Predators. The Bruins are built to stack up against the Preds, and I can only wish that someone takes them out before they reach the finals.
This is one of the most exciting times of the year and, for the Predators, has been a regular season that could go down in the history books. As we saw last year, anything can happen in the playoffs, and the Predators head into this playoff stretch in a polar opposite position than last year. How will the team react to a target on their back? Will they go for the President’s Trophy? No matter what happens in the next few weeks and months, we can agree that this has been one of the most enjoyable seasons in franchise history.
Photo credit to NHL.Com