The Nashville Predators are headed to the Stanley Cup Playoffs once again, and after a tumultuous regular season, they enter the postseason as Central Division champions.

They’ll face off against the top wild card team in the Dallas Stars, and the future 2020 Winter Classic foes will butt heads for the right to play either the Winnipeg Jets or St. Louis Blues in the second round.

Here’s all you need to know about the first round showdown between the Predators and the Stars.

Series Schedule

Game One: Wednesday, April 10 at 8:30 PM CT – Stars at Predators at Bridgestone Arena; TV: USA, SN1, TVA Sports

Game Two: Saturday, April 13 at 5 PM CT – Stars at Predators at Bridgestone Arena; TV: CNBC, SN, TVA Sports

Game Three: Monday, April 15 at 8:30 PM CT – Predators at Stars at American Airlines Center; TV: NBCSN, SN, TVA Sports

Game Four: Wednesday, April 17 at 7 PM CT – Predators at Stars at American Airlines Center; TV: USA, SN, TVA Sports

*Game Five: Saturday, April 20 at TBD – Stars at Predators at Bridgestone Arena; TV: TBD

*Game Six: Monday, April 22 at TBD – Predators at Stars at American Airlines Center; TV: TBD

*Game Seven: Wednesday, April 24 at TBD – Stars at Predators at Bridgestone Arena; TV: TBD

Note, all games will also broadcast locally on Fox Sports Tennessee

Team Records

Nashville Predators: 47-29-6, 100 points, finished first in the Central Division and owned the third-best point total in the Western Conference

Dallas Stars: 43-32-7, 93 points, finished in top Wild Card spot

Matchup History

Predators All-Time Record vs. Stars: 38-44-1

First Meeting: December 12, 1998, Stars defeated Predators 1-0 at Reunion Arena

Predators All-Time Record vs. Stars at American Airlines Center/Reunion Arena: 13-27-0

Predators All-Time Record vs. Stars at Bridgestone Arena: 25-17-1

Meetings This Season

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First Meeting: November 10, 2018, American Airlines Center, Predators 5 Stars 4 (OT)

In one of the wildest games of the early NHL season, the Predators came back from three different deficits to beat the Stars in overtime. After being down 3-1 after two periods, goals from Ryan Johansen and Yannick Weber evened the game early in the third period. Denis Gurianov quickly put the Stars back in front about nine minutes into the third period, but Roman Josi tied it up with less than a minute remaining in regulation to force overtime. After serving a penalty that carried over into overtime, Mattias Ekholm took a feed from Kyle Turris and roofed it home for the game-winner. The win stretched the Predators’ win streak away from home to eight games, the third-longest streak to start a season in NHL history.

Second Meeting: December 27, 2018, Bridgestone Arena, Stars 2 Predators 0

In the midst of what would become a six-game losing streak late in December, the Predators put up a dud against the Stars at home. Tyler Pitlick scored in the first period to give the Stars the lead, and Mattias Janmark doubled Dallas’ advantage in the second period. The Predators peppered goaltender Anton Khudobin throughout the game, but he stopped all 49 shots en route to the Dallas victory. Despite the lopsided shot total, the Predators failed to generate many high-danger chances against Khudobin.

Third Meeting: February 2, 2019, Bridgestone Arena, Stars 3 Predators 1

A third-period collapse by the Predators gave Dallas a 3-1 win at Bridgestone Arena. The game was deadlocked through most of the game thanks to goals in the first period from Nashville’s Calle Jarnkrok and Dallas’ Tyler Seguin. Late in the third period, Blake Comeau and Mattias Janmark scored 43 seconds apart to lift the Stars to the victory. Once again, the Predators outshot the Stars heavily (39 to 26) but failed to win the game. The win extended Dallas’ win streak at the time to four games.

Fourth Meeting: February 7, 2019, Bridgestone Arena, Predators 3 Stars 2 (OT)

Once again, the Predators needed overtime to beat the Stars. This time, however, it was the Stars that needed a late goal to send it into OT. After tying things up at 1-1 early in the third period, the Stars gave up a Viktor Arvidsson tally, but quickly responded with another tying goal off the stick of Taylor Fedun. In overtime, it was another Arvidsson play that made the difference, as he battled for a puck in the corner and found Ryan Johansen in the slot for the game-winning goal. The game snapped Dallas’ five-game winning streak and also marked the long-awaited return of Predators center Kyle Turris from injury.

Fifth Meeting: February 19, 2019, American Airlines Center, Predators 5 Stars 3

The final regular season matchup between the Predators and Stars was a wild and wacky affair in Dallas. Newly-acquired Brian Boyle opened the scoring for the Predators in the first period, but Jason Spezza managed to tie it up for Dallas early in the second period. After Rocco Grimaldi put the Predators back in the lead midway through the second period, things got weird. With only a few minutes to go in the second period, Esa Lindell tied things up with a wrist shot on the power play, and Tyler Seguin gave the Stars the lead just 26 seconds later off a cross-ice feed from Roope Hintz. But 21 seconds after that, Filip Forsberg knocked home a backhand in the crease to tie it back up at 3-3. Roman Josi played the hero for Nashville with a pair of third-period goals to give the Predators a road win and inch them closer to catching the Winnipeg Jets for the lead in the Central Division.

Projected Lines/Pairings

Nashville Predators

Forwards:

Filip Forsberg-Ryan Johansen-Viktor Arvidsson

Mikael Granlund-Kyle Turris-Craig Smith

Colton Sissons-Nick Bonino-Austin Watson

Brian Boyle-Calle Jarnkrok-Wayne Simmonds

Extras: Rocco Grimaldi, Zac Rinaldo, Cody McLeod, Frederick Gaudreau, Rem Pitlick, Miikka Salomaki

Defensemen:

Roman Josi-Ryan Ellis

Mattias Ekholm-P.K. Subban

Dan Hamhuis-Dante Fabbro

Extras: Yannick Weber, Matt Irwin

Goaltenders:

Pekka Rinne

Juuse Saros

Injury Report: With Rinaldo and Salomaki returning from injured reserve recently, there are no major injuries to report for the Predators.

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Dallas Stars

Forwards:

Jason Dickinson-Tyler Seguin-Alexander Radulov

Jamie Benn-Roope Hintz-Tyler Pitlick

Mattias Janmark-Radek Faksa-Blake Comeau

Valeri Nichuskin-Jason Spezza-Andrew Cogliano

Extras: Justin Dowling, Mats Zuccarello (IR), Brett Ritchie

Defense:

Esa Lindell-John Klingberg

Miro Heiskanen-Ben Lovejoy

Taylor Fedun-Jamie Oleksiak

Extras: Roman Polak, Julius Honka,

Goaltenders:

Ben Bishop

Anton Khudobin

Extra: Landon Bow

Injury Report: Trade deadline acquisition Mats Zuccarello is on track to return at some point during this series after spending the last couple of months on IR. Justin Dowling has also been injured recently and should return soon.

Martin Hanzal and Marc Methot are both done for the season, while Stephen Johns has yet to return to the ice this season due to post-traumatic headaches.

Key Players

Nashville: Ryan Johansen

Two years after giving him a massive eight-year contract, the Predators have seen Johansen turn into an elite NHL center and perhaps the most vital piece of the team’s roster. He is Nashville’s leader in points and assists by a fairly wide margin, and he’s also statistically the team’s best center in possession metrics and high-danger scoring chance metrics, per Natural Stat Trick. In addition, Johansen is one of Nashville’s best players in the faceoff dot. He gets more offensive zone faceoffs than anyone else on the team. and he wins them more than 65% of the time. So if the Predators need a big faceoff win in the offensive zone late in a close game, Johansen is the one they’ll likely trust.

Numbers aside, Johansen continues to dazzle with his ability to find his linemates in high-danger areas and generate offense with his long reach, tall frame and fast skating ability. If Johansen is firing on all cylinders, then this Predators team has a fighting chance against anyone in the NHL.

Dallas: Alexander Radulov

While Tyler Seguin might be the offensive motor of the team as center on the first line, his winger in Radulov is an integral part of what makes the Stars so dangerous on offense. He is second on the team behind Seguin in goals and assists, but what’s more impressive is how he has done it. He’s scored 43 goals on just 209 shots, good for a shooting percentage of 13.9 percent. That’s second-best on the team behind Jamie Benn. That kind of efficiency is the mark of a true sniper, and the Stars will need his scoring prowess in order to solve this Predators defense and goaltending.

Plus, it’ll be interesting to see how he’s received by the Predators faithful after all that transpired the last time he was in the playoffs in Nashville.

Matchups to Watch

Filip Forsberg vs. Dallas Stars Defense

Forsberg is one of the most dynamic forwards on the Predators roster, and perhaps in the whole NHL, and individually he generates a lot of offense. In fact, he’s second only to Johansen in individual high-danger chances created among Predators forwards with 70 and first in scoring chances created with 168, per Natural Stat Trick. Meanwhile, the Stars are notorious for allowing opponents to generate lots of chances. They are dead last among playoff teams in Corsi for percentage, meaning they give up more shot attempts than they take. However, the Stars are also among the best teams in the NHL in owning the majority of high-danger chances, and are in the top 10 in the league in fewest high-danger chances conceded, per Natural Stat Trick.

If Forsberg can get himself into high-danger areas, then he could make the Stars pay. But even if he doesn’t find those areas, Forsberg has proven that he can generate scoring chances seemingly out of thin air, so it will be intriguing to see what damage he can do against the Stars defense.

Pekka Rinne vs. Juuse Saros

Let’s just get one thing out of the way right now: Pekka Rinne will be the team’s starting goalie going into the playoffs. That much is abundantly clear. Rinne has won seven of his last 10 starts, and he enters the postseason on a four-game winning streak. His numbers are better than Juuse Saros’ across the board despite starting 28 more games than his backup.

However, as we saw last season, Rinne has looked streaky in playoff games. He was pulled on multiple occasions in the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs, including the decisive Game Seven against the Winnipeg Jets. The difference between last season and this season is that Saros is now more experienced and looks more like a bona fide NHL goalie with starting capabilities. If Rinne struggles again, and that’s a big “if,” then Head Coach Peter Laviolette might be more inclined to stick with Saros if he proves he can be relied on.

The playoffs are all about riding the hot goalie, and if that goalie turns out to be Saros, he might get his shot. But, once again, that is a MASSIVE “if.”

Predators Power Play vs. Dallas Stars Penalty Kill

In a word, the Predators’ power play has been abysmal. It was dead last during the regular season with a 12.9 percent success rate.

That’s right: the Ottawa Senators, Buffalo Sabres, Detroit Red Wings and literally every other team in the NHL finished with a better power play percentage. This happened despite the fact that the Predators had the sixth-most power play opportunities in the NHL.

Meanwhile, the Stars have constructed the fifth-best penalty kill in the league with a success rate of 82.8%. If the Predators want to find a simple way to get a significant leg up in the series, scoring some power plays would be a great way to do that. The penalty kill has been Dallas’ strong suit this season, and turning the tide in that category would make it difficult for the Stars to compete in this series.

Burning Questions

Will Kyle Turris show up?

One of the biggest mysteries of the 2018-19 season has been the disappearance of Kyle Turris’ production as second-line center. In 55 games this season, he has just 23 points, and only five of those points have come since he returned from injury in early February.

He’s been relegated to the fourth line on numerous occasions down the stretch, but he’s since returned to his normal slot on the second line and has shown signs of improvement despite not finding the score sheet much. If he can turn some of those positive signs into tangible points and goals, the Predators will get a much-needed boost in the secondary scoring department.

Can the Sissons-Bonino-Watson line repeat its playoff success?

In 2018, the line of Colton Sissons, Nick Bonino and Austin Watson was vital in slowing down both the Colorado Avalanche and Winnipeg Jets in the playoffs. The line was one of the top reasons why some of the Avalanche’s top scorers in Nathan Mackinnon and Gabriel Landeskog could not stretch that first round series to seven games.

Late in the 2018-19 regular season, that line was reunited after Watson returned from the league’s Substance Abuse and Behavioral Health Program. The Stars boast plenty of dynamic scorers, most notably Seguin, Radulov and Benn, who all had 50+ points this season. The Sissons-Bonino-Watson line will likely be tasked with shutting down those scorers and making the defensive stands needed to secure wins in the third period. That unit will be crucial in keeping the Stars offense in check and giving the Predators plenty of chances to capture close victories.

Will trade deadline acquisitions prove their worth?

The Predators made three major acquisitions near the trade deadline: Brian Boyle, Mikael Granlund and Wayne Simmonds. Boyle has been a much-needed netfront presence and has a solid five goals since joining the squad. Granlund has looked dynamic as a piece of the top six, but he hasn’t boosted scoring like some thought he would. Simmonds has not contributed on the score sheet much, but has still been a physical presence in the squad.

But, the Predators didn’t bring these guys in to contribute in the regular season; they got them to help carry the team in the playoffs. The team will rely on Boyle to continue to provide screens of Ben Bishop or Anton Khudobin in goal and look for Granlund and Simmonds to step their game up with the bright lights of the Stanley Cup Playoffs on them. If the newer Predators can find another gear in their game, it will do wonders to boost secondary scoring and ease the burden on the top line.

Prediction

While the Predators have had one of the most up-and-down regular seasons in recent memory, they found wins when it mattered most near the end of the season and finished with a Central Division crown. The Stars have battled injuries all season long but still enter the playoffs playing well, as they’ve won six of their last 10 games.

As inconsistent as the Predators have been, one thing they do well is put the puck to the net, and given the sheer volume of shots that the Stars tend to give up, the Predators have a great shot at taking care of business in this series in both high-scoring and low-scoring games and earn a spot in the second round for the fourth consecutive season.

Prediction: Predators in Six

Be sure to keep up with Penalty Box Radio for all the latest news and notes on the Predators as they begin another quest for the Stanley Cup.

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