Preds vs Blackhawks Conf Quarterfinals: The Lesser of Three Evils
By: Miranda Martin
For the first time since 2012, the Nashville Predators find themselves in the postseason. And they couldn’t have asked for a better matchup.
The Nashville Predators will begin the first round at home facing their coveted rival the Chicago Blackhawks. After a rough March that resulted in a fall from the graces atop the Central Division, the Preds were at least able to clinch a home ice advantage behind the St. Louis Blues, which may result in the most important component of this series.
While the Predators didn’t get to claim the Central Division throne, this matchup is truly the best option for the current team’s state. Being in the very competitive Central Division has its perils, and with the new divisional playoff setup that was established after the 2012 lockout, no matchup will ever be easy for the Preds. If we must speculate, let’s say the Nashville Predators hadn’t taken a major dump in the last 6 weeks of the season. Let’s say they finished with the results that the St. Louis Blues finished with. The Preds would be facing the Minnesota Wild, one of the hottest teams in the league since acquiring Devan Dubnyk in January. The acquisition resulted in a frightening 28-9-3 record and a 6-3-1 final push in the last 10 games. The only 2 wins that the Predators had against the Wild were before Dubnyk. Though unlikely, had the Preds faced the Blues, they would be looking at a team that has had their numbers in the standings. The Predators took the season series with the Blues, but they haven’t played each other since January.
The teams’ stories at the end of the season are not so different. Both the Predators and the Blackhawks have heard the term “Stanley Cup Contenders” added to their names at different points during the regular season. Both teams saw a fall from graces, whether it be a lack of performance from their big players or a vast array of injuries. Both teams had the worst final records of the Western Conference, with only Arizona (and in Chicago’s case, Edmonton) having worse records. And now, both teams are trying to pick up the pieces from a very disappointing final push.
What will really determine who will win the series will be who takes advantage of the postseason fresh start. The teams haven’t faced off against each other since late December, when both teams were still in graces of Stanley Cup contenders. The Nashville Predators finished the regular season with a 6 game losing streak, and a 4-4-2 record. The Blackhawks don’t look much different in their final games with a 4-6-0 record.
This is definitely going to be one of the most exciting series. This is the first time the Predators and Blackhawks have faced off in a postseason since 2010, when the Blackhawks claimed a 4-2 series victory on the way to their first Stanley Cup in 49 years. This isn’t the first time that Predators coach Peter Laviolette has faced the Blackhawks, as his Philadelphia Flyers faced the Blackhawks in the Stanley Cup Finals the same year as the Predators.
Nashville Predators (47-25-10) vs Chicago Blackhawks (48-28-6)
Regular Season Series: 3-1 Chicago (including OT and SO wins)
Who to watch:
Nashville Predators: The team will definitely need to see their big guys step up in their playoff push. James Neal will look to capitalize on his success against the Blackhawks in the past, including his hat trick against them in the only Predators victory of the regular season series last November. Shea Weber and Pekka Rinne will of course be the mainstream focus, though both have not performed at their highest since the All Star game and injuries, respectively. It will also be a great treat to see Filip Forsberg in his first NHL postseason appearance. Forsberg finished strongly with 4 points in the final 4 games of the season. Mike Ribeiro, the best offseason steal the Preds acquired, has had a stellar redemption season this year, and the Preds can only hope that will continue into the playoffs.
Chicago Blackhawks: You can’t talk about the Blackhawks run without mentioning Patrick Kane’s return from injury. While the team has said they see Kane’s return as a booster and not a “savior,” it definitely will benefit the morale of the team to have their 2013 Conn Smythe winner back in the lineup. A lot of heads will also be on winger Brian Bickell, who is known to have a fire lit under his bum during the postseason (it’s really the only reason he makes so much money.) Captain Jonathan Toews,a major two-way player for the team, will definitely be at his best trying to lead his team onto a long playoff push.
What to expect:
Expect Blackhawks fans in Bridgestone Arena. No matter how many (in)securities the Nashville Predators front office creates to “keep the red out,” the fact is that many ‘bandwagon’ (as well as diehard) Blackhawks fans live in Preds country. They will be there. They will cheer for their team (and may even cheer during the anthem. Seriously, just get over it. It’s not disrespectful), and they will probably shake your hand if you treat them with respect.
Expect the Preds to be the underdogs, even though the Blackhawks have almost an identical record as the Predators. The Blackhawks have had more postseason experience with their core group, and the Predators have 9 players who will be having their first playoff appearance. With the return of Patrick Kane, many experts are going to see this as a reboot for the Blackhawks just in time for a lengthy playoff run.
Expect overtimes. Half of the regular season games between the Preds and Hawks resulted in overtimes. In 2010, the infamous Game 5 went into overtime, where the Blackhawks took the series lead. The Predators have played at least one game into overtime in all but 3 playoff series in franchise history. In this series, it wouldn’t be surprising if more than two games ended up in at least one overtime.
Official Series Prediction: Your guess is as good as mine as to who wins the series. But I wouldn’t doubt that the Predators will see their first game 7 in franchise history.