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Red Wings in rare position of entering playoffs as underdogs

LidstromThe Detroit Red Wings have qualified for the NHL playoffs every year since 1990. It's a pretty remarkable run over two decades that has included four Stanley Cups, six conference titles, and appearances in seven Western Conference finals. Over that time it's been a rarity for the Red Wings to enter the postseason as underdogs, picked to lose in the first round, something that hasn't happened to them since the 2005-06 playoffs when they were upset by the then-eighth seeded Edmonton Oilers.

But that seems to be the expectation this year, as their first-round opponent, the Nashville Predators, is one of the most popular picks in the opening round of the Western Conference playoffs.

Long-time Red Wings captain Nicklas Lidstrom, a player that has never missed the playoffs in his Hall of Fame career, was asked about being in the rare position of being an underdog entering the postseason during a conference call on Monday afternoon.

"We don't mind that at all," said Lidstrom. "We don't mind being the underdog. Nashville had a real strong regular season, they finished ahead of us in points, I think they're the team to be the favorites right now. We're looking forward to the challenge."

The Predators are certainly an interesting team, and a potentially dangerous one in the Western Conference. Especially when you consider the presence of two No. 1 defensemen (Shea Weber and Ryan Suter), a goalie (Pekka Rinne) that's been one of the two or three best netminders in the league not only this season, but going back to last season as well, and a pretty balanced group of forwards that was benefited by the late-season addition of Alexander Radulov last month.

But it's still a little surprising to see so many counting out the Red Wings (my colleague Brian Stubits, for what it's worth, picked the Predators in seven. I'm sticking with the Wings). Not only does Detroit still have plenty of skill and talent, it is one of the best teams in the league at five-on-five play, both in its ability to outscore its opponents (plus-55), but to also control the puck (as shown by the Red Wings' Fenwick rating, the measure of shots attempted vs. shots allowed).

The Predators, on the other hand, has struggled this season at even-strength, not only with their ability to score more goals than their opponents (only plus-eight at five-on-five) but also their ability to get the puck up the ice and keep it out of their own zone. In the playoffs, when special teams situations seem to go down and "let 'em play" rules are in action, that's a pretty big advantage for the Red Wings to have.

Nashville's ability to win and move on may come down to Rinne's ability to handle Detroit's seemingly endless ability to control the puck and put pressure on opposing defenses.

Also, its ability to take advantage of its home-ice advantage and not allow the Red Wings to start finding success on the road, which they've struggled with all season.

"I think our team defense needs to be better," said Lidstrom when asked about what it's going to take to gain an early advantage in Nashville. "We have to play better without the puck, especially against the quick forwards Nashville has, and we have to take care of our own net. Having said that, we're going to get some chances as well and we have to take advantage of the offensive chances as well."

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