Thursday is the day that Chicago Blackhawks fans have been waiting for all season, as the Stanley Cup Playoffs will finally get underway against the Nashville Predators.
The game will pit two of the Central Division’s best teams against each other, and while most experts are picking the Blackhawks to win the series, the Predators have a lot of weapons and depth on their roster, which could give the Blackhawks some problems in the series.
The Blackhawks and Predators split a home-and-home in the first two games of the season, with each team winning their game on home ice. After that, it was all Blackhawks, as they won the final three games in the season series and did so with some quality play from their entire lineup.
In the five games, only one Blackhawks player notched at least one point in every game: defenseman Duncan Keith, who racked up six assists in the five games.
Keith was not the team’s leading points-producer against Nashville, however. That distinction goes to Patrick Kane, who scored three goals and dished out six assists against the Predators this season. Richard Panik was close behind him, with three goals and four assists to his credit.
In fact, Panik was one of two Blackhawks that registered hat tricks against the Predators this season, as he pulled it off in the game against Nashville at the United Center on October 15. The other hat trick belonged to Ryan Hartman, who scored three goals against the Predators in a victory on January 8.
Blackhawks’ Playoff History an Indicator of Things to Come?
Over the past four seasons, the Blackhawks have been excellent in the opening game of a playoff series, racking up a 9-3 record in 12 series openers. In fact they have only lost one series when winning the first game, as they fell in seven games during the 2014 Western Conference Final against the Los Angeles Kings.
Their home ice record has also been stellar over the last few seasons, with the team winning 28 of the 36 games that they’ve played at the United Center. Their one hiccup came last season, as they lost two of three games at the UC as they fell in seven games to the St. Louis Blues in the opening round of the playoffs.
For Blackhawks fans, a loss in one of the first two games shouldn’t be viewed as the end of the world anyway. The Blackhawks tied a team record this season by winning 24 games on the road, so with their depth and skill, the team should be able to handle any adversity that comes their way.
Predators Scouting Report: Players to Watch
The Predators, long known for being a defensive-minded team, have turned that notion on its head in recent years, and this year has seen the team commit to offense more than ever as they’ve added pieces to the mix to help drive possession and scoring.
Of course, that all begins with their talented group of forwards, and what a group it is. Ryan Johansen and Filip Forsberg are the two biggest name players on the team, and they both had strong seasons as Johansen led the way with 61 points and Forsberg tied for the team lead in goals with 31.
Outside of those two, the team still has plenty of scoring firepower. Viktor Arvidsson scored 31 goals and tied for the team lead in points as well, and James Neal had a quietly strong season as he scored 23 goals in just 70 games played.
On the blue line, the Predators get plenty of scoring punch from a trio of defensemen, as Roman Josi (12 goals), PK Subban (10 goals and 30 assists), and Ryan Ellis (16 goals) all are capable of putting the puck in the net and creating scoring opportunities for their teammates.
Defensively the Predators are solid, but not necessarily great, as they allow 2.7 goals per game, which puts them in the middle of the pack league-wide. They do allow a decent number of scoring opportunities, and that’s where Pekka Rinne is going to come in. The netminder has been strong in recent weeks after a sluggish start to the season, and he’ll have to be good against a Blackhawks team that’s been scoring from all over their lineup.