The top seeded Vancouver Canucks advanced to the Conference Finals for the first time since 1994 by defeating the tough Nashville Predators in six games. In my forecast of this series, I wrote:
Timely power play goals and the emergence of Mike Fisher as an offensive threat helped Nashville upset Anaheim. They will not have those advantages against Vancouver. The Canucks are a more rounded team and match up well against the Predators. This series will boil down to the Predators offense versus the Canucks' defense: they simply don't have enough goal scorers to win this series.
Vancouver in six games.
The Predators gave Vancouver absolutely everything within their gameplan, turning this series into a physical, defensive-minded dogfight. Nashville played well, their forwards played well, and goalie Pekka Rinne was exceptional. In the end, Vancouver played Predators-hockey and ended up victorious.
What Happened To Nashville?
They are exactly the team we knew coming into this series; tough as nails, and dependent on great goaltending and timely scoring. Unfortunately for the Predators, they ran into a Canucks team that doesn't mind playing that exact same style -- but with better (and more) offensive talent. Aside from Joel Ward (who had a breakthrough campaign for the Predators), Nashville really struggled to score. Joel Ward scored or assisted on eight of the 11 goals in the entire series. When Vancouver can focus all of their energies on one forward, it's going to be difficult for the Predators to break through, especially within their risk-free system.
The Predators scored only one power-play goal all series, a dramatic dropoff from their quarterfinal against the Anaheim Ducks. They were unable to take advantage of special teams, and that is why they are heading back to Tennessee for the summer.
They have the pieces in place to be an annual playoff participant, but Nashville needs to find some offensive talent to give them the balance to advance further than the second round.
What Have We Learned About Vancouver?
The Canucks have become mentally tough. Less than 48 hours after defeating the Chicago Blackhawks in a nail-biting Game Seven, they played a completely different style against a more physical opponent. No matter how good Rinne was in net, no matter how physical Shea Weber played their forwards, Vancouver found an answer. Roberto Luongo did enough against the outmatched Predators offense to silence the doubters demanding his benching in the quarterfinals. Nashville focused on shutting down Henrik Sedin and Daniel Sedin; they were very successful in this regard. But Nashville doesn't have enough defensemen to shut down elite forward Ryan Kesler, who is making the leap into superstardom. Kesler was by far the best player in the series, with five goals and five assists. Vancouver needed him to stand out, and his performance was the difference between these two teams in this series.
Vancouver won the President's Cup during the regular season, and for good reason. Luongo has stabilized, the defense can play physical and tight, or loose and aggressive, and Vancouver boasts three superstar forwards that will challenge any defensive corps. They are the obvious favorites from a talent standpoint; this Nashville series displayed the mental toughness that was their only question.
The Canucks are the favorites to win the Stanley Cup, there are no questions about this team that remain unanswered.