The Nashville Predators didn't equal their regular-season success of 2017-18, but they still claimed a second consecutive Central Division title and were a 100-point team.
But as the Predators prepare to play host to the Dallas Stars on Wednesday to kick off the opening round of the Stanley Cup playoffs, they believe they are a better team thanks to two trade-deadline additions -- Wayne Simmonds and Brian Boyle.
The Predators (47-29-6) are built around their team defense -- with much of the scoring coming from the defensemen -- but Simmonds and Boyle are bigger, gritty players who round out their forward depth and will be key to a lengthy playoff run.
"I'm extremely excited. That's what you play 82 games for. You play 82 games just to get to the start of the playoffs, and then nothing's promised from there," Simmonds told NHL.com.
"The intensity ramps up, it's a really physical game and everybody starts hitting. Every single guy in the lineup is hitting, and it's just exciting hockey. I think it's a better brand of hockey."
The Predators had an up-and-down season, in big part due to injuries that left them without the likes of defenseman P.K. Subban for 19 games, and forwards Viktor Arvidsson for 21 games and Filip Forsberg for 17 games. However, they heated up down the stretch by winning eight of 11 games, including five of the final six contests, to claim the division.
"You look at our team and you see the depth. You go through our whole lineup and there's a lot of tremendous players on our club," forward Ryan Johansen said. "We're all coming together. We're a pretty darn good hockey team. The focus right now is there's still a lot of work to be done."
Dallas (43-32-7) earned the Western Conference's first wild card spot after missing the playoffs in the past two years.
"The hunger is there," center Tyler Seguin told NHL.com.
"Sitting on your couch in April all those years in a row, it doesn't feel good. You don't like watching. You want to be playing. Most of the times in the first round I am not even watching because I am still angry about the regular season. It's nice to be playing and competing this year."
While this series pits a division champ against a wild card squad, the separation isn't that big. Nashville won three of the five regular-season meetings, with two of the victories coming in overtime. The Stars are similar to the Predators -- strong defensively with a solid one-two punch in goal and boasting a couple of game-breakers up front.
Maybe that's why Dallas went 5-1-1 down the stretch to separate from the rest of the wild card hopefuls.
"We feel like we played some great hockey down the stretch," forward Jamie Benn said. "We won some big games, especially on the road. We're a confident group going in."
"The goal all along has been get back in the playoffs," Seguin added. "Now the goal is: 'Let's do some damage.'"
--Field Level Media
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