Payback Begins Tonight
Predators fans are all too familiar with that sinking feeling of the playoff “what if’s”. For the 2nd time in their existence, Nashville had a summer to look back on a series with Chicago and wonder how they let it slip away. We all remember the agonizing 1st round loss to the Blackhawks in 2010 when the Preds held a lead in the pivotal game 5 with the series tied, only to give up a shorthanded goal in the final minute, eventually leading to their demise in OT and eventually, the series.
227 days ago, the final nail in the coffin was driven in by Duncan Keith’s goal with less than 4 minutes left in game 6 at the United Center. That series was excruciating in many ways. The injury bug hit Nashville at the worst time with Captain Shea Weber dislocating his knee in game 2 and Mike Fisher missing significant action as well. They completely exposed Corey Crawford, scoring 9 goals in just 4 periods of play against him in the first two games. However, for the third time in their playoff history, Nashville fell victim to a backup goalie as former Preds prospect Scott Darling played out of his mind for 3+ games. Add to that the fact they blew a 3-goal lead in game 1 and a 2-goal lead in the game 6. In 2 of the 4 losses, Nashville never trailed, and were only behind for the final 3:48 of game 6. The Predators, even without the services of their captain, showed they can hang with the champions. It marked the 3rd time the franchise lost at the hands of the eventual Stanley Cup champions.
But we’re way beyond moral victories at this stage and Chicago is our blood rival. Tonight, the first step in some redemption takes place at the Madhouse on Madison. The Blackhawks underwent another salary cap purge, parting ways with players like Brandon Saad, Patrick Sharp, Johnny Oduya, Brad Richards and Antoine Vermette. The core of the team remains but their depth up front which has proven crucial to their 3 titles in 6 years, took a huge hit. You’ll hardly recognize half their forwards, but they’re still led by eventual Hall of Fame coach Joel Quenneville, who may be doing one of his best coaching jobs this season. Going into tonight’s tilt, Chicago is just one point behind the Preds in the Central. That may get a little lost amongst most Preds fans in that above all else, this home-and-home series could loom large in the standings come April.
The focus for the boys in gold will be stopping Patrick Kane. That of course is much easier said than done as the former #1 overall pick is on a historic streak of 22 straight games with a point, breaking the team record set by Bobby Hull. He has accumulated 36 points in 43 games vs Nashville over his career and is a threat every time he touches the puck. The key to containing him is keeping Kane along the boards. If they force him to skate along the perimeter, there’s less room for him to wield his magic and reduces our chances of hearing Chelsea Dagger or seeing that gliding, finger-wagging celebration he does.
Although the team played last night in Boston, I don’t expect fatigue to be a factor. They spent a bunch of time on their power play (which has caught fire) and surrendered a meager 17 shots on goal. It looks as though Nashville has broken out of their offensive funk a bit, but most of their damage has been done on the pp with Weber and Josi leading the way with 9 points in the last two games. They obviously can’t sustain something like that, so I’m calling for it now…. Colin Wilson will score two goals in these games vs Chicago. I know he currently has as many goals this year as Zac Rinaldo, but he’s played much better the last few games and is getting his chances. He also lit up the Blackhawks last spring for 5 goals, 4 of those on the pp.
Huge points in the division are at stake tonight and again on Thursday in Smashville. The Preds haven’t forgotten about their misfortune in the post-season, and I fully expect them to use that as a little extra emotional boost to take down Chicago and end Patrick Kane’s point streak.
Follow me on Twitter @GreekGoalie35 as I will be in full madness mode tonight when the puck drops at 7:30.