The Playoff match-ups are locked in and the Hawks will take on the Nashville Predators in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs. Last night’s game against Colorado had no meaning on playoff seeding, just an opportunity to build up some much needed confidence before the playoffs start. After St. Louis beat Minnesota Saturday afternoon the Blackhawks had their opponent for the first round. In my opinion the Hawks got a pretty good deal playing Nashville in the first round considering they had the possibility of playing Minnesota, Anaheim, or the red hot St. Louis Blues. With that being said, Nashville is by no means a cake walk. A number of Predators are dangerous, but today I am going to give you five to keep a watchful eye on.
Pekka Rinne G
Rinne is a a guy who is especially vital to his team. When he is on he is one of the best goalies, if not the best goalie in the NHL. His big frame allows him excellent lateral movement in the crease and helps him not give up too much net. This year Rinne posted 41 wins, a .923 save percentage, and a goals against of 2.18. Pekka Rinne has been a big part of Nashville’s resurgence this season.
Shea Weber D
Shea Weber is to the Nashville Predators as Duncan Keith is to the Chicago Blackhawks. Weber is Nashville’s number one defenseman and plays big minutes night in and night out. Not only is Shea Weber solid defensively, he has a howitzer of a shot in his arsenal. Blocking a Shea Weber slap shot is just about as dangerous as walking into oncoming traffic. If the Hawks can shutdown Weber it will really put the Preds blue line in a pinch.
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Seth Jones D
Staying on the blue line Seth Jones has really blossomed into an excellent NHL defensemen. The fourth overall pick in the 2013 draft has registered eight goals and nineteen assists this year, a pretty productive year for a twenty year old NHL defenseman. He has an offensive touch to his game, but knows his job as a defenseman. He’s an excellent skater and a smart one. Weber, along with Jones, keep a watchful eye on the Predators blue line.
Filip Forsberg F
The Swedish forward has had an excellent rookie season putting up twenty-six goals and 37 assists and is well on his way to a possible Calder trophy. Forsberg, a former eleventh overall pick, was acquired from the Washington Capitals in exchange for Michael Latta and Martin Erat. I’d say Nashville may have won that trade by a nose. Forsberg is an excellent skater and knows what to do with the puck when he gets it. As this season has gone on Forsberg has only gotten better and has continued to mature into a true NHL scorer. The only question is will he be able to handle the pressure that is the Stanley Cup playoffs as a rookie?
James Neal F
James Neal had an unbelievable start to the season after coming over from Pittsburgh at the draft. He eventually cooled off, whether it was because of the injury he sustained, or because it would be impossible to continue at the pace he was on. Never the less James Neal is an incredibly gifted goal scorer. Even though he didn’t eclipse his career high in goals, forty, he did pot twenty-three in just sixty-seven games. James Neal is a proven playoff performer and will be looked upon to continue that trend, especially on such a young team where many of them have not tasted playoff hockey.
The Blackhawks have a tough task ahead of them in taming the Nashville Predators, but it is a manageable one. The Hawks have the playoff pedigree that the Predators do not. Both teams have been struggling as of late, but both teams can turn it on in the blink of an eye. We’ll have more about the Hawks first round match-up later, so don’t forget to follow us on Twitter @BlackhawkUp and like us on Facebook.