Before this series started, it was easy to frame this matchup: the Detroit Red Wings and the Nashville Predators are two teams who appear to be going in different directions. The Predators are young and strong and have a great goalie in net; the Red Wings are older and more experienced, and their goalie has had an up-and-down season.
But all it took was one brutal headshot to make it all obvious to even the casual fan. Game 1 is in the books and for the record, the Nashville Predators defeated the Detroit Red Wings 3-2. At the final buzzer, Nashville defenseman Shea Weber took it upon himself to grab the head of Detroit forward Henrik Zetterberg and smash it into the glass. Weber was not assessed a penalty on the play, and was fined a paltry $2,500 by the NHL for an egregious move better suited for “professional” wrestling or an MMA ring.
Red Wings head coach Mike Babcock says he’s “moved on” from the incident, while others were publicly disappointed by the lack of a suspension. Regardless, there’s one inescapable fact at play here: the Predators have a youth movement, and the Wings do not. That was highlighted when Detroit lost the services of winger Darren Helm when the 25-year-old had tendons in his arm sliced by an errant skate during the game. He’s gone for the rest of the playoffs, and the Winged Wheels don’t really have anyone of his skill level to replace him.
On the other side of the ice, Nashville’s most obvious sign of their youth movement was regaining the services of winger Alexander Radulov, also 25. He had bolted from the Predators in 2008 to play in Russia’s Kontinental Hockey League, but returned to much fanfare a few weeks ago. Since then he’s helped the team with three goals and seven total points in nine games. Even so, he’s still adjusting to the rigors of North American playoff hockey.
Radulov has boosted an already well-established attack featuring the likes of Kostitsyn brothers Sergei and Andrei, Martin Erat, Patric Hornqvist, David Legwand, Matt Halischuk, Mike Fisher, trade-deadline pickup Paul Gaustad, and even Gabriel Bourque, who scored two goals including the winner in Game 1. Weber and Ryan Suter anchor a decent blueline brigade, and Pekka Rinne is always mentioned as being one of the better goaltenders in the league. They’re led by the only head coach Nashville has ever had in its 15 years of existence: Dauphin, Manitoba’s own Barry Trotz.
Detroit has long been held up as an example of how other clubs want to build a successful franchise, but now they’re a little long in the tooth. With greybeards such as Niklas Lidstrom (age 41), Thomas Holmstrom (39), Todd Bertuzzi (37), backup netminder Ty Conklin (36), center Pavel Datsyuk (33) and winger Daniel Cleary (33) leading the way, it’s become clear that the age gap between them and their opponents is significant. They won a Stanley Cup in 2008 while the Predators never have, but it’s clear that the speed needed to keep up in today’s game is more likely to come from younger legs. Goaltender Jimmy Howard is only 28, which makes him one year younger than Rinne, but his season has been marked by injury and inconsistent performances and he isn’t regarded as being in the same class as his Finnish counterpart.
One Twitter wag labeled the series “Mustard vs. Ketchup” because of the color of the uniforms; the NHL betting line, the futures board and the prop bets are all favoring the Mustard-colored Predators. Mustard will probably need six games to put Ketchup in the cupboard, but this is already a series to relish.