While most of us were expecting the Nashville Predators to face off against the Winnipeg Jets or the St. Louis Blues in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, the hockey gods had other plans.

A crazy finish to the Central Division saw the Predators clinching their second title in as many years. A week ago, their chances were only  13% at claiming the top spot.

It’s something that head coach Peter Laviolette says gives the team a lot of momentum going into the playoffs.

“Our team is in a good spot both mentally and physically. They really pushed hard down the stretch to win the Central Division. And we had to fight inside of those games to get that done.”

Laviolette was referring, of course, to the Predators last two games of the regular season. Coming back from early deficits twice in order to clinch the title wasn’t exactly the plan. But he then said his team’s current form is a good sign of things to come.

“I think we went 8-2-1 down the stretch, and that’s a positive. It certainly I don’t know if it factors into a Game 1, but 8-2-1 gives you a little bit more confidence than if you go 2-8-1.”

He was also quick to state that in the playoffs anything can happen. In the playoffs, preparation and execution is what matters.

“I still feel like what’s gonna matter on Wednesday is not necessarily the 8-2-1 or the 2-8-1, I think what matters on Wednesday is us waking up and being prepared and going out and executing and doing our job. That will matter most.”

Similarities in Preds and Stars

Laviolette and his team are already scouting the upcoming series matchup heavily, as you would expect. His own team is healthy and ready to go, Laviolette says his team is preparing for a number of possibilities from the Stars.

“Taking a look at their lineup, they’re deep. They’ve got four lines that can play, they’ve got six defensemen that can play, they’ve got guys that are waiting to play that are extras right now and waiting to get in the lineup.”

While the Stars have struggled to put goals up on the board all season, Laviolette is right about the Stars when it comes to balance on all four lines. Every line of the Stars has players that can play tight, defensive hockey. Balance is key in the playoffs and, at least at one end of the ice, the Stars have it.

Speaking of forward lines, while the Stars have a ready-made, extremely dangerous top line. But Laviolette doesn’t expect to see Tyler Seguin, Jamie Benn, and Alexander Radulov together much.

“I think [the top line] is split up based on the board that we have in there. So it’s not just their top line, like I said, their fourth line is really good right now the way it’s pinned on our board. They got a guy like Jason Spezza who’s been a terrific player his whole career.”

“And that’s kind of how we’re built too, if you think about it, we’ve got some pretty good players right now on our fourth line. It’s capable for any line to have success.”

Looking at these two teams, you can’t help but agree with Laviolette. The Predators have some excellent depth, especially when it comes to playing good defensive hockey. The third line with Nick Bonino, Colton Sissons, and Austin Watson has been arguably the Preds’ best line these last three games. And the fourth line has been generating plenty of chances over the last week or so.

But, in the end, it’s about using that balance and executing a play over the course of a series. While Laviolette knows his team is playing well and has the balance it needs, he knows what matters most.

“If we can wake up that day and do the work, execute our plan, do it with speed, do it with some attitude, we can find success.”

— Featured image via Brace Hemmelgarn/USA TODAY Sports —

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