van nsh series preview

The first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs features 16 teams in eight best-of-7 series, which start Saturday. Today, previews the Western Conference First Round between the Vancouver Canucks and Nashville Predators.

(1P) Vancouver Canucks vs. (1WC) Nashville Predators

Canucks: 50-23-9, 109 points

Predators: 47-30-5, 99 points

Season series: VAN: 3-0-0, NSH: 0-3-0

Game 1: TBD

Six of the eight teams that made the Stanley Cup Playoffs from the Western Conference last season are back this season. The two new teams, the Vancouver Canucks and Nashville Predators, will face each other.

It's the second time the teams will play in the postseason, after the Canucks won in six games in the second round in 2011.

Vancouver will host a playoff game for the first time since 2015, a six-game loss to the Calgary Flames in the first round. The Canucks' only trip to the postseason since then was 2020, when they lost in seven games to the Vegas Golden Knights in the second round, with all games played at Rogers Place in Edmonton because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

"I think this group is a confident one and we have all the confidence we need headed into Nashville," Canucks forward Dakota Joshua said. "It'll be exciting to get them at home first and then see how the series goes from there."

Nashville returns to the playoffs after failing to qualify last season for the first time since 2014.

"We're the underdog," said Predators coach Andrew Brunette, who is in his first season with the team. "We've got our work cut out for us. Let's just go at them. It's kind of the same mentality that we've had all year, let's just go straight forward."

The Canucks began the season 12-3-1, moved into the Pacific Division lead Dec. 23 and won their first division title since 2012-13.

The Predators started 5-10-0, but as they began to better understand their new systems, they went 13-3-0 in their next 16 games. They cemented themselves as a playoff team with a team-record 18-game point streak (16-0-2) from Feb. 17-March 26.

The Canucks swept the three-game series against the Predators, outscoring them 13-6. But all three games came in the first half of the season, before Nashville got its game going the right way.

"That definitely helps. You can beat them, but at the end of the day you start back off 0-0," Joshua said. "They were a pretty hot team down the stretch here so they're feeling probably a lot better than the times we played them earlier in the season, and it should be a great series."

Game breakers

Canucks: Quinn Hughes arguably was the most dominant defenseman in the NHL this season, leading players at his position with 92 points (17 goals, 75 assists) in 82 games, and was plus-38 while averaging 24:41 of ice time per game. The 24-year-old did some of his best work at even strength, with his 54 points in such situations first among defensemen. He was on the ice for 108 goals at even strength, second among defensemen to Evan Bouchard of the Edmonton Oilers (112), and his plus-41 even-strength goal differential was fourth. And when Hughes was on the ice the Canucks averaged 56.4 percent of the shots at 5-on-5. Simply put, whenever Hughes was on the ice, the Canucks had the puck and likely were creating something offensively.

Predators: Forward Filip Forsberg had the best offensive season of his 12 in the NHL, setting a Nashville record with 48 goals and finishing with 94 points (46 assists), a personal high. He also scored an NHL career-high 11 game-winning goals, tied with Florida Panthers forward Sam Bennett for second in the League, and his three overtime goals were tied for the lead.


Canucks: Demko looked ready for the postseason after returning to the lineup with 39 saves in a 4-1 win against the Calgary Flames on Tuesday, his first game since March 9 because of a knee injury. After struggling last season with a groin injury that kept him out for more than two months, Demko has been mostly healthy this season and played like a top goalie in the NHL, going 35-14-2 with a 2.45 goals-against average, .918 save percentage and five shutouts. Backup Casey DeSmith was reliable at times, going 4-5-1 with a 2.94 GAA and .888 save percentage while starting 10 of 14 games Demko was out, but the Canucks' fortunes will ride with Demko's play.

Predators: Juuse Saros had what could be considered an off season but only by his outstanding standards. Discounting his one game in 2015-16, Saros' 2.86 GAA was the highest of his nine-season NHL career, and his .906 save percentage was the lowest. He also allowed eight goals on 48 shots in losing both of his starts against the Canucks. But Saros has the ability to raise his game at big moments, with a .914 save percentage in the playoffs that's not far off his .917 regular-season percentage for his career. Kevin Lankinen was solid (11-6-0, 2.82, .908) in 24 games (17 starts) as the backup, but the wild card could be rookie Yaroslav Askarov, widely regarded as the NHL’s top goalie prospect. In his only start this season he made 26 saves in a 3-2 shootout win against the Washington Capitals that included saves on Evgeny Kuznetsov and Alex Ovechkin in the tiebreaker. If Saros struggles, could Brunette turn to the 21-year-old for an energy boost?

See Canucks compete in the 2024 Stanley Cup Playoffs

Numbers to know

Canucks: Vancouver scored the game's first goal 53 times, the most in the NHL, and had a .717 winning percentage when scoring first. They led the NHL with 96 goals in the first period, their plus-38 first-period goal differential was the best in the NHL and they were 29-6-3 when leading after one period. 

Predators: Defenseman Roman Josi had 85 points (23 goals, 62 assists) in 82 games. It's the second time in the past three seasons he's had at least 80 points, following his 96-point season in 2021-22.  As important to the Canucks as Hughes is, Josi is just as much of an offensive driver for the Predators


Canucks: Forward Elias Lindholm has 12 points (six goals, six assists) in 26 games with Vancouver after being acquired in a trade from the Calgary Flames on Jan. 31. Lindholm has bounce-back potential during the playoffs as he had 32 points (nine goals, 23 assists) in 49 games with Calgary prior to the trade. He at least finished on a bit of a roll with five points (two goals, three assists) in six games to close the regular season and is seeing top-six ice time and significant power-play usage. -- Anna Dua

Predators: Gustav Nyquist was third on the Predators with an NHL career-high 75 points (23 goals, 52 assists) in 81 games. He has been a fixture on the top line with Forsberg and Ryan O'Reilly, who was second to Forsberg with 26 goals. With Predators having struggled against the Canucks during the regular season, Nyquist being effective on their top line and first power-play unit will be necessary for Nashville to offset Vancouver's elite offense. -- Anna Dua

They said it

"We're excited to get prepared and look into their tendencies and their system. But we know ultimately it's about focusing on our game and playing certain way that we know has gotten us to this point." -- Canucks defenseman Tyler Myers

"Obviously I'm familiar with a lot of those guys. I played there the last couple of years. We'll start talking about sort of what they do and their tendencies, just like you would on any team in prescout. They've got a lot of talent." -- Predators defenseman Luke Schenn, who played for the Canucks from 2021-23

Will win if …

Canucks: They don't get caught up in the moment. Most of the core was in place in 2020 when they made a surprise run, but there were no fans in the bubble. Now they'll be the favorite and under pressure from what certainly will be a sold-out Rogers Arena, packed with fans with huge expectations. It can be a bit much for a group that's never experienced it, but the focus will have to be on staying even-keeled through the highs and lows that come with postseason hockey.

Predators: Saros can carry his strong play from late in the regular season into the playoffs. He was 15-3-3 with a 2.51 GAA and .916 save percentage in his final 21 games, allowing two goals or fewer in 13 of them. The Canucks can attack in waves, so the Predators will need their No. 1 goalie to play like a star if they are to have any hope of advancing.

How they look

Canucks projected lineup

Pius Suter -- J.T. Miller -- Brock Boeser

Nils Hoglander -- Elias Pettersson -- Ilya Mikheyev

Dakota Joshua -- Elias Lindholm -- Conor Garland

Vasily Podkolzin -- Teddy Blueger -- Sam Lafferty

Quinn Hughes -- Filip Hronek

Carson Soucy -- Tyler Myers

Ian Cole -- Nikita Zadorov

Thatcher Demko

Casey DeSmith

Scratched: Mark Friedman, Nils Aman, Noah Juulsen, Phillip Di Giuseppe

Injured: None

Predators projected lineup

Filip Forsberg -- Ryan O'Reilly -- Gustav Nyquist

Jason Zucker -- Colton Sissons -- Mark Jankowski

Anthony Beauvillier -- Tommy Novak -- Luke Evangelista

Cole Smith -- Michael McCarron -- Kiefer Sherwood

Ryan McDonagh -- Roman Josi

Jeremy Lauzon -- Alexandre Carrier

Spencer Stastney -- Luke Schenn

Juuse Saros

Kevin Lankinen

Scratched: Tyson Barrie, Dante Fabbro, Jaret Anderson-Dolan, Cody Glass

Injured: None independent correspondents Darrin Bauming and Robby Stanley contributed to this report