As we begin this series, it is important to note the importance for the Predators to begin every game, especially at the United Center in Chicago, playing with a lead. Chicago was 26-10-5 this season at home and can score in droves with their fans becoming raucous. They did not end the regular season on a positive note with three wins in their last ten games. The Blackhawks are a dangerous team with most experts predicting Chicago to be the representative from the Western Conference in the Stanley Cup Final. A recent poll conducted showed that the Nashville Predators fans are positive going into the series where 85% stated that Nashville will take down the odds-on favorites to win the West. If the Predators get behind and play inconsistent, it will be a short series and will start their summer early. If the Predators are consistent and can get production from all four lines, this series will be closer than most of the “experts” are predicting.
One glaring advantage that the Nashville Predators have over the Chicago Blackhawks is on special teams; the 2016-17 statistics are proof in this statement. The Predators power-play struggled down the stretch of the regular season, yet Nashville had a higher ranking with an 18.9% conversion rate (16th), where Chicago converted 18.0% (19th) when given a man advantage. On the penalty kill, the Predators have an even higher separation ranking 15th in the NHL with a kill rate of 80.9% where the Blackhawks are 24th in the league at 77.7%. Viktor Arvidsson leads the league in short-handed goals with five and Filip Forsberg is not far behind with three goals when down an extra skater. Typically, the playoffs do not have many penalties called, but if there are any called, the Predators must take advantage. Their play this season has shown that they are capable of making the Blackhawks pay, if given the opportunity on special teams.
Playing the Possession Game
The toughest part in playing a team like Chicago is dealing with their outstanding forwards. Like them or not, you have to respect the abilities of Kane, Toews, Hossa, and the younger players that the Chicago front office has assembled this season. The best way to take the game out of their hands is to control puck possession. The Nashville Predators were ranked second in the NHL this season with 2,145 even strength faceoff wins, where Chicago was 29th. When a team, especially in the playoffs, has strong play in the faceoff circle, positive play typically follows. The Preds will depend on Ryan Johansen, Mike Fisher, and all of the centers to win those battles. Both Fisher (54.9) and Johansen (54.6) played well this season on faceoffs, and that dominance must continue.
The excitement for game one is here. Tonight, the Predators will look in taking the game-by-game approach in defeating the Chicago Blackhawks. Game one can be seen locally on Fox Sports-Tennessee and nationally on NBCSN. 102.5 The Game will be covering the action on the radio with pre-game coverage beginning at 6:00 pm. Puck drops at 7:00 pm!