The Nashville Predators advanced past the second round for the first time in franchise history in the spring, moving past the Western Conference final before falling just two wins shy of the Stanley Cup title. The Music City representatives look to take the first step on what they hope is another long journey on Thursday when they open the 2017-18 season against the Boston Bruins at TD Garden.
Nashville boasts a potent top line that features 31-goal scoring wings Filip Forsberg and Viktor Arvidsson around center Ryan Johansen, who erupted for 13 points in 14 playoff games before being shut down due to acute compartment syndrome. The Predators’ offense takes a hit after this trio, with the team banking on offseason acquisition Nick Bonino (Pittsburgh) paying dividends and Colton Sissons, Kevin Fiala and Pontus Aberg taking the next step in their development to deal with the departures of former captain Mike Fisher (retirement) and fellow forward James Neal (Vegas). While Music City embraced the Predators during their lengthy postseason run, Boston’s first playoff appearance in three years was promptly snuffed out by Ottawa in the first round to ignite a summer filled with questions. David Pastrnak (34 goals, 70 points) answered a significant one just before training camp by signing a six-year, $40 million deal.
TV: 7 p.m. ET, FSN Tennessee (Nashville), NESN (Boston)
ABOUT THE PREDATORS (2016-17: 41-29-12, 4th in Central Division): Nashville’s strength rests with arguably the best quartet of defensemen in Roman Josi, P.K. Subban, Mattias Ekholm and Ryan Ellis, although Ellis is expected to be sidelined into January with a knee injury. Veteran Alexei Emelin was acquired to provide depth on the back end in front of Pekka Rinne, who overcame a mediocre regular season to excel in the first three rounds of the playoffs. Juuse Saros, 22, could be in for a greater workload if Rinne - who will turn 35 in November - falters this season.
ABOUT THE BRUINS (2016-17: 44-31-7, 3rd in Atlantic Division): Boston openly inserted a healthy dose of youth in its lineup last season and its success in 2017-18 could hinge on how quickly those kids adjust under the direction of coach Bruce Cassidy. “We have some spots available, and that’s what you need in today’s NHL, to have young guys come in and produce and can carry a bit of the load,” said Brad Marchand, who recorded franchise bests in goals (37), assists (46) and points (85) last season. “We definitely have some guys that are going to be able to do that. ... It’s going to help us not only this year but the next five or six years.” Promising 19-year-old Charlie McAvoy and fellow defenseman Brandon Carlo will be looked upon to log significant minutes to take the load off 40-year-old captain Zdeno Chara.
1. Former Vezina Trophy winner Tuukka Rask recorded career bests in wins (37) and shutouts (eight) last season for Boston.
2. Johansen, who signed an eight-year, $64 million deal in the summer, has eclipsed 60 points and 20 power-play points in each of his last four seasons.
3. Bruins C Patrice Bergeron, a four-time Selke Trophy winner, will play in his 900th career game on Thursday.
PREDICTION: Predators 3, Bruins 2