The Chicago Blackhawks will look to finish off their series with the Nashville Predators on Thursday night as the two teams tangle at Bridgestone Arena in Game 5.
The Blackhawks lead the series three games to one after a dramatic triple-overtime goal by defenseman Brent Seabrook on Tuesday night in Chicago. The Hawks also won Game 3 in the Windy City, with both wins coming with rookie goaltender Scott Darling manning the blue paint.
Following their success in those games, head coach Joel Quenneville said he will likely opt to keep his lineup intact, with Andrew Desjardins and Antoine Vermette remaining among the forwards and Kimmo Timonen and Michal Rozsival continuing to play on the blue line. Darling will also get his third consecutive start in net, with Corey Crawford once again serving as the back-up.
As for the Predators, they will likely still be without two of their key players. Defenseman Shea Weber, who was injured in Game 2 of the series on a hit by Brandon Saad, did not skate with the team at their morning skate prior to Game 5, and head coach Peter Laviolette didn’t have an update on his status for the contest. Center Mike Fisher also didn’t skate with the team, so it appears that the Predators will once again have to fight through some tough roster choices in a must-win game.
In spite of those obstacles, the Predators do have some reasons for optimism as they head back home for Game 5. Even without Weber in the lineup for most of Game 2, the team still managed to keep a lid on the Hawks’ offensive attack thanks to Laviolette’s ability to dictate matchups against the Blackhawks’ forwards. Getting home ice advantage back means that the Predators can deploy their forwards out against whichever blue line pairing they want, and they can also load up defensive pairings to try to slow down Chicago’s top forward line.
In addition to that, the Predators can also take advantage of their home crowd to add a little bit of extra juice to their game. Nashville clearly skates better on home ice, and the higher tempo benefits them as the Blackhawks will undoubtedly try to clog up the neutral zone with their forecheck. If the Predators can ratchet the tempo up, it will make it harder for the Blackhawks to get into position to stop possessions between the blue lines, and that certainly gives Nashville the edge.
As for the Blackhawks, the keys to winning Thursday’s game are simple. Getting the second line back on track will be a critical component, as Patrick Kane and his crew have been held largely in check during the games back in Chicago. A big part of that was because the Predators could no longer dictate matchups against the top line, meaning that the solid defensive forward line for Nashville often ended up on the ice against Kane and company.
The other big factor will be the play of the team’s second-tier blue liners. Michal Rozsival had arguably his best game of the season on Tuesday night in Chicago, making several big plays and playing the kind of responsible defense he has sorely lacked at times this season. Kimmo Timonen also had a good game, and if those two are in top form again Thursday, it’s going to be difficult for Nashville to get quality scoring chances in the offensive zone.