Playoff hockey is different.
It's harder-hitting, tighter-checking, lower-scoring, the yells from the crowd more visceral as each mistake or triumph could be the turning point in a seven game series.
And it brings out the casual fans. Folks unwilling to shell out 20 bucks for a 6-2 gong-show November loss to the Oilers are more than willing to pay twice that for playoff action.
Knowing that the bandwagon is going to be a little crowded starting tomorrow as Game 1 of the Western Conference Quarterfinal (7 p.m., SportsSouth, 102.5 The Game) series kicks off a tooth-and-nail battle with the hated Detroit Red Wings, your mighty Dromemaster is here to help the late bloomers find their ice-legs.
We'll have a guide to the Red Wings roster later and in Thursday's dead-tree, there will be more. But today, after the jump, is a rundown of the home team.
Martin Erat (#10): Everyone's favorite whirling-dervish Czech is having a career year, a wholly whelming experience for us all. Erat's natural habit is skating into the attack, going wide with one hand on the stick and then spinning around, probably to pass it. Fans are often frustrated at this act, the hockey equivalent of a perfectly likable pop song you've heard way too much. But ask coaches from other towns, and they'll tell you: Erat really is quite good.
David Legwand (#11): The Original Predator, drafted with the team's first-ever draft pick and never going elsewhere, Leggy holds pretty much every franchise record, a product, naturally, of having been around the longest. The perpetual nearly-man, he never quite lived up the lofty expectations — described in the late 90s as "the next Mike Modano" and compared favorably with Wayne Gretzky. But Leggy is a useful player, a wily veteran with surprising speed (when he uses it) and always seems to come alive in the post-season and against the Wings. Plus, way back in October, when everyone still thought it unlikely, he predicted a Stanley Cup run.
Mike Fisher (#12): Yes, he's married to Carrie Underwood. In addition, he's also the team's first-line center and he, too, has quietly had a career year, posting 51 points, only his second 50-point year. He was brought in to bolster the Predators ahead of last season's playoffs, but a full year of Fisher has paid dividends. He had three goals and four assists in that post-season — and we learned later he had a dodgy shoulder. Expect better things this year, but don't get lost in the epic beauty of his chin, a magnum mentum which would have been the subject of poetry and the inspiration for wars if the times were different.
Nick Spaling (#13): For a time, Nick Spaling was a rabbit's foot: until mid-February of this year, the Preds had never lost in regulation when Spals tallied a goal. The shine's come off that, in part because Spaling — who the Predators front office is convinced can be a top-six forward given time — is playing a lot more and thus has more opportunity to score. Spaling is the kind of middle-of-the-pack guy who can really have an effect in the playoffs.
Craig Smith (#15): After a blistering start to his rookie year, Smith's had a hard time staying in the line-up lately, but did play well in the season-ending meaningless game at Colorado. The Honey Badger does have great offensive skill and should Barry Trotz need a little offensive punch, he's a nice asset to have around. Just not when the net's empty.
Brandon Yip (#18): A savvy waiver wire claim by David Poile, Yip joined the team from Colorado mid-season and his tough, in-the-corners, squat-in-front-of-the-net style has earned him regular minutes, a sort of lower-tier Patric Hornqvist. He'll be in that rotating cast of bottom line guys, swapped in and out as the style of the series dictates.
Jordin Tootoo (#22): Perhaps the most recognizable Predator — in part because his name matches his number and he is greeted by bleating whistles every time he does anything — Tootoo has evolved his game from mere pest to mere-pest-with-a-little-scoring-ability. He had strong early season numbers before tapering off, but he still throws out a centering pass as well as anyone.
Brian McGrattan (#23): We love Big Ern as much as he hates basketball. While his fights can be good jump starts in the regular season, they aren't so prevalent in the post-season. Follow him on Twitter, because you likely won't see him on the ice.
Matt Halischuk (#24): What can be said about Matt Halischuk that hasn't already been said about Nick Spaling? Hali was the comeback in the trade that sent Jason Arnott to New Jersey and, lo and behold, Hali put up eerily similar numbers to Arnott this season at roughly a quarter of the price. Hopefully he doesn't get concussed in a celebration like Arnott.
Patric Hornqvist (#27): The square-jawed Swede led the team in goals this season, almost all of them from within three feet of the net. A master of the tip-in, stuff-back and re-direct, Hornqvist is a frustrating opponent. He also, apparently, has a very dirty visor, judging by the number of opposing defenders who take the time to wipe his face clean with their gloves.
Paul Gaustad (#28): A deadline acquisition, Goose's skills are often under-the-radar. A deft penalty killer and a face-off specialist with the rare ability to win draws with both hands. Think of him as a super version of former Predator Jerred Smithson. If only Goose gets us one of these during the playoffs.
Colin Wilson (#33): A favorite of stat geeks and teenage girls alike, — but will Willy find his way out of the doghouse for the playoffs? His occasional defensive boffos frustrate the coaching staff, but his moments of offensive brilliance cannot be down-played. He's another guy who'll get some PT based on the atmosphere of the series.
Andrei Kostitsyn (#46): The elder Kostitsyn came to Nashville from Le Belle Provence at the deadline and has proven quite useful. Not just an ephemeral, moody scorer — a stereotype pinned on numerous eastern Europeans — he can also bang his big body with the best of 'em. Heading into free agency, AK will be playing for big dollars in the post-season.
Alexander Radulov (#47): The prodigal Pred prepares for the playoffs, his first North American post-season since 2008 (against the Red Wings, coincidentally). Rads worked out well in the final stretch of the regular season, as well he should as the most talented of a deep group of forwards. The Preds will need Rads to play at a top level and if he plays to his potential, they'll be tough to beat. It's a stretch to say, "As Rads goes, so goes the Preds" — but not too much of one.
Gabriel Bourque (#57): Remember back before video game controllers had more buttons than a Chotchkie's waitress and your options in hockey games were "shoot," "pass" and "skate really fast"? That's Gabriel Bourque. He's pretty good at everything, but everything he does he does fast. Number 57 flies around the ice, each shift 45 seconds of energy and pressure. Recently, he's been on a line with Spaling and Hornqvist, which the unparalleled Jim Diamond has dubbed "The Yo Gabba Abba Line."
Sergei Kostitsyn (#74): The elfin Belorussian Zen master taught us an important lesson: "There is a time to shoot the puck, there is a time to pass the puck." More often than not, SK74 chooses the latter option, but, in another gem, he promised us "I will try." Smaller and shiftier than his big brother, SK had a little trouble in the playoffs (he did have a separated shoulder) last season.
Shea Weber (#6): If you haven't heard of Shea Weber yet, maybe hockey isn't for you. A world-beating blueliner, the Predators captain should be a finalist for the Norris Trophy for the NHL's best defenseman again this year. Strong defenders like Weber are an asset any time, especially in the playoffs. And, my God, that beard.
Kevin Klein (#8): Kevin Klein is a perfectly useful defenseman who happens to have been taken in the same draft and play on the same team with two of the world's best, so he is often maligned as being "terrible," when he is actually merely "slightly above average." More of a stay-at-home guy, he often ends up on the wrong side of a highlight reel goal precisely because he was defending. Klein has taken to growing a mohawk to go with his Luciferian facial hair. So at least he looks scary.
Ryan Suter (#20): The other half of the dynamic duo, Suter might as well make his nickname "The Talking Point" now. Headed for the big dollars of free agency July 1, Suter says he's just focused on the playoffs. Suter is a silky-smooth skating microcosm of what this post-season represents for the franchise, a win-now watershed. Bonus: there's no one better in the world at touching up an iced puck than Suter.
Jack Hillen (#38): Thunder Jack is the classic seventh defenseman, playing when called upon, often after weeks and weeks of not doing so, he fills a role and fills out a pair of suspenders, skating like Jeff Bagwell batted.
Ryan Ellis (#49): The undersized Ellis — very generously listed at 5'10" — is a power-play specialist defenseman, though he can lay a serious check if he has to. Ellis has tons of upside, but will likely only be called upon here if the team needs to add some offensive pop.
Francis Bouillon (#51): Cube is, without a doubt, the greatest American-born Quebecois-Haitian hockey player in the history of the NHL. Not known for his goal scoring, he inexplicably has four goals in his last 11 games after going goalless for his previous 87. In honor, he's joined Klein's Mohawk revolution. Cube for Conn Smythe?
Roman Josi (#59): The Bern-born Josi is a fountainhead of excellent puns. Playing well? He's The Swiss Guard (without the funny outfit). Playing poorly? Swiss Cheese. In the playoffs, we'll take him as merely neutral, but he does have the ability to move the puck like a well-made watch. You get the idea.
Hal Gill (#75): At 6'7", Gill is the ginormo of the defense corps. A throwback of a player, he's not the best skater or much of a threat to score. What he is is a giant person, coming from the time before time. Known as "Treebeard" for his length in both the tooth and the inseam, Gill has no problem getting in front of hard shots (or maybe he just can't get out of the way of them; it takes a long time to turn a battleship, after all). He may be nursing an injury, but the Preds will want him.
Anders Lindback (#39): Oh, Anders. How we love your child-like innocence and your insouciant hair and your purported love of candy. We'll smile when we see you perched on your seat like Big Bird in his nest; but we'll cringe if you're on the ice, because that means the next guy isn't playing.
Pekka Rinne (#35): It all sort of hinges on Rinne, really. One of the world's elite netminders, Peks has hands so fast it makes the banjo players on Lower Broad shake their heads in amazement. If the team is a collection of high-end role players, melded together like the gears of a Rube Goldberg device, the Big Finn is the stalwart at the back who makes it all a success. If a rested Rinne plays his best, the Preds are darn-near-unstoppable.