Hockey Night in Canada

Top-ranked Predators vs. Jets clash could be a Cup final

Playing the Winnipeg Jets is exactly why Nashville coach Peter Laviolette wanted home-ice advantage in the NHL playoffs.

For 2nd straight post-season the NHL's top 2 teams will meet in 2nd round

The Nashville Predators and the Winnipeg Jets will begin their second-round playoff series on Friday. (Mark Humphrey/Associated Press )

Playing the Winnipeg Jets is exactly why Nashville coach Peter Laviolette wanted home-ice advantage in the NHL playoffs.

Even if it's a round — or two — earlier than anyone really wants.

Laviolette's Predators play Winnipeg in the Western Conference semifinals after turning in their best season in franchise history to grab the right to start and end a series in the place called "Smashville."

They edged out their Central Division rival by a mere three points for the Presidents' Trophy, and this will be just the fifth series since 1990 between the NHL's top two teams in the regular season.

"They wanted divisional battles, got them," Laviolette said. "This should be a big series."

It's the second straight post-season that division foes and the league's top finishers meet in this round. Pittsburgh, which wound up beating Nashville in the Stanley Cup final, advanced to the Eastern final by downing the Capitals in Game 7 in Washington.

Plenty of anticipation

Winnipeg and Nashville played so well that this series has been anticipated for weeks, so good it could be a Cup Final despite the Predators winning the regular-season series 3-1-1. Nashville defenceman P.K. Subban dismissed such talk Thursday, noting this round remains a long way from the Stanley Cup final.

A thrilling series with lots of speed and goals? That the Jets and Predators can provide.

"The thing about winning, and I'm sure you ask anybody who's won a Cup, is the steps that it takes to get there," Subban said. "You have to go through some thick walls, and this is definitely one of the thickest walls that we're going to have to get through to get there."

Winnipeg goes against the defending Western Conference champs coming off the franchise's first post-season series victory after relocating from Atlanta in 2011 with 10 Jets making their playoff debuts against the Wild. Winnipeg centre Bryan Little says that makes the Jets the underdogs by just a little bit.

"It's going to be a really tough series and a tight series, so I think that's why everyone's so excited about it," Little said.

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