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Why the Sharks can beat the Nashville Predators in Round 2
Round 2 prognostications
4/28/16 - By Zach Bodenstein -

After shocking the hockey universe and eliminating the Los Angeles Kings in dominant fashion, the Sharks are well-rested and poised to carry over their first round success against the Nashville Predators. The Predators are no slouch, as they took down arguably the western conference's toughest team, defeating the Anaheim Ducks in seven games, of which was a grueling and bruising series. The Predators come into this game on a two game winning streak, like the Sharks, and are forced to adjust to the time zone in Northern California, as well as the extended travel from Tennessee.

The Sharks had some injury scares throughout the series that saw them dismantle the Kings in five games, as Joel Ward, Logan Couture, and Joe Pavelski all left games briefly, but eventually returned. It is inevitable that a series against Los Angeles will result in some bumps, but the Sharks have now had close to a week off, as the Predators just finished off their series in Southern California on Wednesday night, and there is no reason to doubt that their ailing bodies are going to play a factor in this series.

This rest could favour the Sharks, as they have been running hard practices to keep them in shape, and are trying to avoid getting off to a slow start in this series like they did in the second round of 2013 after a long break post-sweeping Vancouver.

Martin Jones was as solid as he could be in round one. It's fair to say that little-to-zero goals for Los Angeles could be pinned on him due to bad bounces and defense miscues, and he negated many changes of momentum that carried the Sharks to wins with big and timely saves.

The biggest threat for Nashville is their goaltender. Pekka Rinne was lights out against the Ducks, and he has given the Sharks trouble in the past.

The Sharks went 1-2-0 against Nashville this season, but out of all teams, they know best that the playoffs are a completely different song and dance.

It is tough to judge this head-to-head record as well, as the Sharks really only had their game going towards that final stretch for their only win of the season series, that saw them put up 40 shots against the defensively-minded Predators.

San Jose received a massive boost late in the first round series, as their depth scoring really started to kick in, including Joonas Donskoi outworking Norris Trophy candidate Drew Doughty and scoring the eventual clincher. Joel Ward stepped his game up, Patrick Marleau got hot towards the end and is notorious for his streaky scoring, and the big guys were the big performers.

Nashville stacked up their top line for game seven against Anaheim, going with Ryan Johansen centering Filip Forsberg and James Neal. Their top defensive pairing is arguably the best pairing in all of the NHL, with Roman Josi and Shea Weber.

However, it is not inconceivable to believe that Peter Laviolette has tarnished some of his depth with these lineup decisions. Even with the elevated play of Ryan Ellis and Mattias Ekholm, San Jose's depth on both sides of the puck is incredibly strong, as mentioned in the series preview against the Kings.

Taking advantage of the Predators' third pairing of Anthony Bitetto, a youngster, and Barret Jackman, a rugged veteran that lacks speed, will be key. The Predators do not get much scoring from any of their bottom three lines, so shutting down the top line with the last change for the majority of the series is a big advantage for San Jose, as they have two pairings that are more than capable of doing so.

The Sharks' fourth line of Tommy Wingels, Chris Tierney, and Nick Spaling got off to a very rocky start in the series against the Kings. They took multiple penalties, lost various battles, and made mental mistakes that resulted in an advantage for the Kings before turning it around later on in the series.

However, Peter DeBoer's club was as resilient as ever, as they survived many pushes from Los Angeles, and only played from behind for a total of just over four minutes throughout the five game set against the league's best possession team.

Unlike two weeks ago, the Sharks are now considered a heavy favourite following their termination of the Kings. The Sharks will have home ice advantage in this second round series, where they went 1-0-1 against Los Angeles in round one, while going 3-0-0 on the road.

The crowd was as loud as it has been in recent years for those home games, and with the home schedule on the Sharks side, and promising play in both of those home games against a tough opponent, the home ice struggles in the regular season should be forgotten for San Jose.

The Sharks' powerplay was incredible during the Kings series at 23.8%, building off of what was a key for the Sharks success all season long. The Predators' powerplay was extremely lackluster, ranking dead last out of all playoff teams at just 3.8% in the first round.

Nashville was also one of the worst faceoff teams in the NHL during the regular season, something that the Sharks will look to take advantage of with their center depth.

This series will be physical and defensive. The Sharks' third pairing of Roman Polak and Brenden Dillon must remain solid and negate turnovers, and if they do, the Sharks will be in a great position to win this series.

Now that the Sharks' so-called "Playoff Demons" are behind them, there is no doubt that they are mentally prepared for the next step, and calling the Sharks are motivated team going forward would be an understatement.

There is no doubt that the Predators are a good team and have earned every bit of this opportunity, but do the Sharks stack up better against them and have a more complete team?

Game one is Friday night at 7:30 PST at the Shark Tank.

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