Despite having a rough Game 3 against the Minnesota Wild in round one of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, the Winnipeg Jets had little trouble advancing to the Conference Semi-Finals in a total of five games. The Jets, who held the second-best record in the regular season, find themselves playing in the Western Conference Semi-Finals against the Presidents Trophy-winning Nashville Predators who dispatched the eighth seeded Colorado Avalanche in six games. The season series between the NHL’s two top teams favored the Predators with a 3-1-1 record. However, our Nashville plays Winnipeg Stanley Cup Playoffs Round Two pick sees this series being a very even matchup.
Round One Play
In the first round, Winnipeg dominated the Wild. Minnesota posted the lowest shots per game average. In addition, they had the lowest scoring chances per 60 minutes out of any playoff team. In contrast to the Wild’s 24.15 shots average and 19.18 scoring chances per 60 minutes, the Jets fired a playoff-leading 35.75 shots per game. They also generated the third-most scoring chances with 30.54 per 60 minutes. Although the Predators dominated much of their series against the Avalanche, they did so to a much smaller degree compared to the Jets. Throughout many of their games, Colorado was able to keep up with Nashville.
Winnipeg’s League Leading Home Ice Advantage
Winnipeg will be hard city for the Predators to play in. The MTS Centre, despite having the smallest maximum capacity in the NHL, is notorious for being tough on visiting teams. On home ice during the regular season, Winnipeg finished with the most wins out of any team in the league, while allowing the lowest rate of scoring chances by opposing teams. They kept opposing teams to 22.26 per 60 minutes of hockey.
Similar to Winnipeg, Nashville is a tough city to play in. In round one, the Predators allowed the fifth-lowest average of scoring chances per 60 minutes on home ice (23.92). Despite Nashville having home ice advantage throughout the playoffs, the Jets stealing a road game from the Predators seems more likely than Nashville taking one in Winnipeg.
Two High Flying Offenses Square Off
The Jets finished the first round averaging 3.20 goals for per game. They were led in the goal scoring category by center Mark Scheifele. He potted 4 goals and 1 assist in the previous series. Scheifele’s point total was tied with Dustin Byfuglien. He had 5 assists, and a team-leading time on ice of 25:13 minutes per game. The Jets showed off their offensive depth against Minnesota. They did so as 17 players registered at least one point against the Wild. Players who did so included Paul Stastny (1-3-4), Blake Wheeler (1-3-4), and Patrik Laine (2-2-4).
In a manner similar to the Jets, Nashville’s depth up front is very strong. In the series against the Avs, the Preds had significant scoring contributions from all three of their top lines. They were led by third liners Colton Sissons (3-4-7) and Austin Watson (4-3-7). Filip Forsberg finished the first round tied with Watson for the team lead in goals, while first and third line centers Ryan Johansen and Nick Bonino both had 2 goals and 3 assists.
The forward depth is especially seen at the center position with both of these clubs. The Jets’ four centers, Scheifele, Stastny, Andrew Copp and Adam Lowrey, have combined for 12 points and a +7 rating in the playoffs thus far, with Lowrey being the only one not to register a point yet. Comparatively, Nashville’s centers have combined for 11 points and a +9 rating. Thus far, only fourth line center Mike Fisher has failed to collect a point, and Kyle Turris has only contributed a single assist.
The Predators Biggest Assets Are on the Blueline
Nashville’s largest strength is its blueline. Led by Roman Josi and PK Subban, the Predators have the ability to generate a lot of chances with their defensemen both on the rush and during extended times in the offensive zone. Along with Josi and Subban, Mattias Ekholm had a great first round, finishing with 6 points and a +9 rating. In their 6 games thus far, the Predators have compiled 14 points among their six defensemen who suited up.
Comparatively, with the exception of Byfuglien, the Jets do not generate as much offense from the backend as Nashville. Winnipeg’s defensive corps is still nothing to take lightly, as against the Wild, every defenseman finished with a positive plus/minus rating. The Pred D played solidly in the opening round of the playoffs.
Jets’ goaltender Connor Hellebuyck’s stellar play continued into the post-season after his Vezina Trophy nominated year ended. Hellebuyck finished round one with a .924 save percentage and a 1.93 GAA. Both of which are much stronger numbers when compared to fellow Vezina Nominee, Nashville’s Pekka Rinne.
Rinne finished the first round with a .909 save percentage and a 2.60 GAA. Although he did shut out the Avalanche to clinch the series in game six. Historically, Rinne has either been amazing during the playoffs or just okay, and he has looked to be the latter so far in 2018.
Nashville Plays Winnipeg Stanley Cup Playoffs Round Two Pick
Overall this series features two teams that have been stellar all season. Both have good forward depth and elite goaltending. Pekka Rinne has an opportunity to find his groove in this series, although Connor Hellebuyck has already hit his post-season stride and looked tough to beat in round one of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
While Nashville can be a tough city for away teams to play in, Winnipeg’s advantage on home ice is the greatest in the league, making it more likely for the Jets to steal a game on the road compared to the Preds. Our preview sees this series going down to the wire due to the similarities between these two Western Conference clubs. Our Nashville plays Winnipeg Stanley Cup Playoffs Round Two pick is below.