There are several reasons to love the first-round clash between division rivals Chicago and Nashville — and believe it or not, a chance at the second round is last on the list.
Instead, what awaits the hockey world is a battle between two teams that haven nearly beaten themselves into the ground. For the majority of the season, the Nashville Predators looked like they were untouchable — at lest in their own division.
Nashville continued to impress thanks to stellar defensive performances on the ice night in and night out. While this got many Predators fans back behind their team as a playoff run was all but inevitable, the wear and tear started to seriously show.
What’s evident after taking a look at their track record in the regular season is one thing that seems to just jump right off the page and grab your attention — the Predators can only play good in spurts. Runs of four, five, and six games were the longest winning streaks the Preds had in the months of January, February, and most recently March.
This could be good and bad for several reasons.
One reason it could benefit the Predators is the fact that each playoff series is a best-of-seven. Sometimes, even if at first your best hockey is not on display, there’s always a chance to win till the fat lady sings.
I mean really, just ask Los Angeles.
Last season the Kings came out of nowhere and wrote some of their own magical history as they upended the heavily favored San Jose Sharks after losing the first three games of the series. Nashville is the kind of team that can play with their back against the wall, but only if the moment is right.
If hockey had a Cinderella, it’d have to be the Nashville Predators — but be aware, the slipper doesn’t always fit.
On the other side of things with Chicago, we see a Blackhawks team that cannot wait to get back in touch with more of Patrick Kane. Kane has been missing from the Chicago starting lineup since a major injury to his clavicle back in February, and the Blackhawks are going to need his effort — as little or big as it might turn out to be — to even have a chance.
Corey Crawford is going to be playing on edge, so there’s always room to speculate just how much the cookie can crumble. In last season’s playoffs, Crawford nearly fell apart on his own two feet to the St. Louis Blues in what was a testy, physical, and relentless professional hockey series.
Expect the one against the Predators to be nothing less.
Players to Watch:
Patrick Kane (CHI) : This one should be obvious. With a healthy Kane in the mix, Chicago is nearly unbeatable. A strong defensive and offensive presence goes a long way against a team like Nashville that seems to still be looking to try and identify themselves.
Corey Crawford (CHI) : Corey Crawford has been the best goalie in the Western Conference in the last several years second only to Jonathan Quick of the Los Angeles Kings. Plus, in their last five playoff appearances, Chicago has made it at least the Conference Finals three times — two of them ending in Stanley Cup celebrations.
Shea Weber (NSH) : Arguably Nashville’s most well-known player, Shea Weber’s defensive performances are going to be one of the major x-factors for a Predators push beyond the first round. This season, Weber led the team in penalty minutes served — with 72 to his name — and might need to put himself out there more and continue his self-sacrifice for the sake of his teammates and the franchise.
Filip Forsberg (NSH) : Forsberg has been Nashville’s leading scorer this season with 26 goals and counting. Offensive reciprocation of a strong defensive front will be needed for Nashville to keep pace with the high-flying Blackhawks. With Forsberg as the biggest offensive threat the Predators have, expect Chicago to spend their time and effort on how to stop him in his tracks at all costs. Period.
Prediction: Assuming that Patrick Kane stays healthy, that’s the x-factor for me that decides this series. I don’t see Chicago or Nashville really pulling away until a deciding Game 7 in Nashville. The Blackhawks have played physical hockey before, so that’s nowhere near the concern, but the play of Kane — for better or for worse — will end up deciding the fate of this hockey team and their terrific season.
Blackhawks 4 , Predators 3