published Wednesday, April 27th, 2011

Predators next foe to be Vancouver

  • photo
    A shot by Nashville Predators defenseman Shane O'Brien (55) hits the post as Anaheim Ducks goalie Ray Emery watches in the second period of Game 6 of a first-round NHL Stanley Cup playoff hockey series on Sunday, April 24, 2011, in Nashville, Tenn. The Predators won 4-2 to win the series 4-2. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

NASHVILLE — The Nashville Predators get the Presidents’ Trophy-winning Vancouver Canucks in their first Western Conference semifinals.

No sweat. Nashville split the regular season series with the NHL’s best team and outscored the Canucks 4-2 in Vancouver.

“We can play with anybody in the league,” Predators forward Martin Erat said. “It is all going to be about battles and who wants it more.”

Vancouver moved on after defeating the defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks in overtime in Game 7 in the quarterfinal series Tuesday night. After winning the first three games in the series, Chicago won the next three to force the decisive final game.

“Obviously it was an exciting game [Tuesday] night. They played very, very well,” Predators coach Barry Trotz said. “It will be a great test.”

After dismissing the Anaheim Ducks in six games, Nashville will be the more rested squad heading into the semifinal matchup with the Canucks. The Predators practiced in Nashville on Wednesday morning after learning who their opponent would be and then flew out for Vancouver with Game 1 set for tonight.

The additional time off will be especially beneficial to the Predators top defensive pairing of Ryan Suter and Shea Weber. Suter led all Predators against the Ducks by averaging 27:28 of ice time per game with Weber second at 26:29.

The series will be a homecoming of sorts for Weber, a native of Sicamous, British Columbia. The Predators’ road games in this series will not just be played in Weber’s home province, they will take place in the same building where he and his fellow Team Canada teammates won the gold medal at the 2010 Winter Olympic Games.

The NHL announced Monday that Weber is one of the three finalists for the Norris Trophy, given to the league’s top defenseman. Both Nashville goaltender Pekka Rinne and his Vancouver counterpart Roberto Luongo have been named as finalists for the Vezina Trophy, honoring the NHL’s best goaltender.

The Canucks “have a very good offensive team, but they have a very balanced team,” Rinne said. “They gave up the fewest goals in the league, so they are very good defensively too.”

In addition to the rest, the extra days off will help heal any injuries the Predators are battling after an extremely physical series against Anaheim. Erat missed Games 5 and 6 of the series after taking a high hit in the second period of Game 4 from Anaheim’s Jarkko Ruutu, who was suspended for one game for the hit.

Aside from calling Erat’s injury an upper-body injury, the Predators have kept quiet about the nature of what kept the 29-year-old Czech out of the lineup. Erat practiced with the team both Tuesday and Wednesday and is set to return for Game 1.

“He’s making the trip, and he’s ready to go,” Trotz said. “It will be a good add for us.”

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