Round 1: The Chicago Blackhawks
The Predators look to exercise another demon this year in the round 1 as they face the Chicago Blackhawks. While it won’t be an easy task, this team has the talent to get it done. Plus, here is to hoping the 3rd time is the charm. They faced a similar fate in 2012 when they faced their 1st nemesis in the Detroit Red Wings for the 3rd time in the playoffs. After losing the 1st two series 4-2, the Preds finally got that monkey off their backs winning in 2012 4-1.
The Blackhawks won the season series this year 4-1. The two teams have only played once since Jan. 8th. The Preds have found their stride a bit since then. After they lost to the Hawks that day they were 16-16-7. They have gone 25-13-5 since then. They found a
1st line combo that worked, the defensive pairings have begun to gel together and both Pekka Rinne and Jusse Saros have been solid in goal.
However, Chicago has been just as hot going 24-11-4 in that same span. Both teams have been playing good hockey. Here are a few keys for the Predators that can help lift them over the Blackhawks in this series.
#1 – The most obvious is goaltending. Even though the Predators finally have a backup they feel confident in using at this time of the year in Saros, they still need Rinne to be, well, Rinne to make a long Cup run. Rinne has played the fewest games in a full season, except when he was injured in the 2013/14 season at 61. The hope is that a fresh Pekka Rinne will be able to carry them forward. In his last 9 games of the season he has only given up more than 2 goals once and has a 1.75 GAA and a .943 save percentage.
#2 – Secondary scoring will be paramount. We all know that Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Marian Hossa and Artemi Panarin are going to get theirs for the Hawks. On the other side Filip Forsberg, Ryan Johansen, Viktor Arvidsson and James Neal are going to get theirs for the Preds. The difference is going to come down to everyone else. This will be key because it has been driving the Predators success this season. While stars struggled early on, the depth guys were adding the offense. The Predators finished the year with 12 double digit goal scorers, while the Hawks only had 7. This time of year the stars tend to cancel each other out. For the Predators to win, they need those depth guys to keep chipping in.
#3 – The play of the two teams defense cores could decide this series. While the Preds D-core has always been good, this year feels different. Everyone knows what Roman Josi and P.K. Subban can do, but with Ryan Ellis and Mattias Ekholm coming of age this season, the Preds top 4 rivals any in the league. The Predators are basically playing with 2 top pairs right now. If there is a weakness on this Hawks team it is the bottom 3 defensemen. We all know about Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, and Niklas Hjalmarsson, but is anyone really afraid of a Trevor van Riemsdyk, a 37-year-old Brian Campbell and a journeyman in Johnny Oduya? While the Blackhawks don’t have many holes, this may be the one the Preds need to exploit.
I am not one to make bold predictions, so I won’t pick a winner in this series. However, something just feels different this year. Maybe it is finally having a good backup, maybe it is the play of the top 4 or it could just be that the team has played very well since early January. Whatever it is, this could be the year to get past another nemesis. Either way, it will be fun to watch!
Let me know your thoughts, predictions or what you may believe the keys to the series to be!
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