The Nashville Predators begin the Stanley Cup Playoffs with a tough matchup against the Colorado Avalanche tonight.

The Avalanche are one of the favorites to win it all this year. As the postseason begins, Money Puck has the Avs as the 3rd most likely to win the Stanley Cup, with their odds at 14.6%. The Predators’ odds are at 0.6%.

We already know the Preds will be without their best goaltender, Juuse Saros, for Game 1. A to Z Sports reported that he suffered a high ankle sprain last week and he is likely out for four to six weeks. It will likely be David Rittich in his place, though the Preds could opt to play Connor Ingram.

No one said winning the Stanley Cup is easy, right?

Nashville is going to need a lot of contributions from the rest of their lineup in order to beat Colorado. The offense will need to put up a lot of goals. The defense will need to work harder and be more disciplined than they’ve been all year. And one of these two goaltenders will have to catch fire in the postseason.

How John Hynes arranges his lineup in Game 1 is going to determine how he thinks this series will be played.

Preds lineup combinations will be key

Most of the lineup decisions are already made, but some final moves are still up in the air.

For example, does Luke Kunin earn a playoff spot despite a disappointing season? And if so, where does he slot in the lineup? Same with Eeli Tolvanen… does he play in the top six? Surely the Preds need as much offensive skill on the ice as possible, but Tolvanen hasn’t been shooting with the same confidence this year.

What about Mathieu Olivier and Matt Luff? Does putting them in the lineup provide more physical punch? And then the defense… does Jeremy Davies get a look? Philippe Myers was recalled from his loan to Toronto (AHL) yesterday, does he make the lineup?

Considering all these questions, here’s my ideal lineup for Game 1:

Forwards

Forsberg Granlund Duchene

Tolvanen Johansen Tomasino

Trenin Sissons Jeannot

Cousins McCarron Kunin

Defense

Josi Fabbro

Ekholm Carrier

Borowiecki Benning

The obvious top line with Mikael Granlund, Filip Forsberg, and Matt Duchene will return. That line has been producing points all year. The other guarantee is the “Herd Line” with Colton Sissons, Tanner Jeannot, and Yakov Trenin.

The big question is: who plays with Ryan Johansen?

Johansen has played most of his even strength minutes with Luke Kunin, Filip Forsberg, and Matt Duchene. But lately he’s been paired with Philip Tomasino, with mixed results. He’s also played over 300 minutes with Tolvanen. I think it’s likely Johansen is paired with some combination of Tomasino, Tolvanen, and Kunin.

If Hynes wanted to throw a curve ball in Game 1, he should put Tolvanen in the top six with Johansen and Tomasino, and slide Kunin down to the bottom line with McCarron. This would also match style of play better: Kunin’s physicality would match well with Nick Cousins and Michael McCarron, and Tolvanen would provide a trigger man for playmakers Johansen and Tomasino.

On defense, there are fewer questions. Roman Josi, Dante Fabbro, Mattias Ekholm, and Alex Carrier will round out the top four. Mark Borowiecki has been a staple of the bottom pairing and will certainly play tonight. Matt Benning is the 6th man right now, though Jeremy Davies would provide more speed and offensive ability. There’s an outside chance Philippe Myers plays, but likely only in an emergency situation.

Preds’ odds are long against tough Avs team

Again, the Predators are not in the best situation. Though they have plenty of skill, Nashville is not likely to win this series. The Avs lineup, from top to bottom, is just better than the Preds.

But the Predators did beat the Avs three times this season. There must be something Nashville is doing on the ice that frustrates Colorado. Earlier this season, Mattias Ekholm ripped Mikko Rantanen’s helmet off and started a fire storm. The Preds also beat the Avs last week with Dave Rittich in net.

So it’s not impossible, but the odds makers aren’t far off when predicting this series. The Predators are long shots. The Avs are favorites. The matchups are tough.

— Featured image via Christopher Hanewinckel/USA TODAY Sports —