The Chicago Blackhawks and Nashville Predators will renew their Stanley Cup Playoffs rivalry, but while the Blackhawks have the West’s top seed, not everything that glitters is gold
The Chicago Blackhawks finally have their first-round opponent set for the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs, and in a bit of déjà vu, Chicago will face the Nashville Predators. Nashville and Chicago square off in the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the third time since 2010, with the previous two matchups going the way of the Blackhawks in the first rounds of 2010 and 2015.
The previous two first-round tilts between the teams both ended in Blackhawks 4-2 series victories and became precursors to some real success for the Blackhawks:
Pretty good omen.
But nothing is guaranteed. Nashville presents all kinds of trouble for the Blackhawks despite Chicago’s 4-1-0 record against the Preds this season. The Stanley Cup Playoffs are the second season for the NHL and things get ramped up once the calendar turns to April and the razors are put away.
While the Blackhawks look to improve on last season’s first-round playoff exit, the Predators are looking to finally get over the hump that is the Blackhawks, and here are five reasons Nashville could do it.
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Five reasons the Predators can beat the Blackhawks
Let me preface all of this by saying I fully believe the Blackhawks have what it takes to defeat the Predators in a seven-game series again this year.
But like I stated before, nothing is guaranteed. Last season, I believed they had what it took to top St. Louis, but they fell short. Nashville is a dangerous team, and these five factors could really give the Blackhawks fits and, if not addressed properly, could lead to another early exit for Chicago.
1 . Swedish snipers
While Nashville may not have the superstar name recognition that the Blackhawks have, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t possess some real dangers on offense. Enter Filip Forsberg and Viktor Arvidsson. Nashville’s top two goal-scorers this season, Forsberg and Arvidsson present a huge threat to the Blackhawks defensively.
Arvidsson plays with a nonstop motor and has a knack for finding the puck and getting it to the net quickly. Pretty sure he hasn’t seen a shot he doesn’t like in his career.
As for Forsberg, Chicago saw just what he is capable of in the playoffs first hand when he notched four goals in the 2015 first-round series that went six games. Chicago will need to contain Nashville’s top-two scorers if it wants to have any kind of defensive success in this series.
2. Blue-line scoring
Speaking of defensive success, the Predators could give Chicago plenty of threats from their own blue line, but even more from their own offensive zone.
While Chicago hasn’t had two or more defenders score double-digit goals since the 2009-10 season (Duncan Keith with 14, Dustin Byfuglien with 17), the Predators bring three double-digit goal scorers to the table this season.
Roman Josi, Ryan Ellis and P.K. Subban all topped the double-digit mark for goals this year and can make for a big matchup difficulty with Chicago’s forecheck. Expect to see a ton of those three in the first-round tilt as they make up the top three minutes-eaters on defense for the Predators.
3 . Speed demons
One of the biggest challenges that Nashville presents Chicago is its top to bottom speed advantage. Players like Arvidsson, Forsberg, Josi, Subban and Kevin Fiala can move like lightning on the ice, and that could end up being a big problem for the Blackhawks, especially for blueliners like Seabrook and Johnny Oduya, who have appeared to have lost a bit of foot speed this season.
4. Stay out of the box
While the Blackhawks have done a great job of staying out of the penalty box this season, amassing 253 penalties (29th in the NHL), they’ll need to be extra diligent against Nashville. The Predators boast a powerplay percentage of 18.9, good enough for 16th in the NHL with Chicago ranking 19th in the league at a flat 18 percent.
The problem lies with the Blackhawks’ penalty kill, which finished 24th in the league at a 77.7 percent kill rate.
If you removed the first month of the season though, when the Blackhawks killed just 53.1 percent of penalties, they have an 82.1 percent kill rate. But that’s not how things work.
Chicago will need to keep its noses clean against the Predators, otherwise Nashville could capitalize on those mistakes.
5. Can’t win without the puck
Puck possession may be the biggest concern for Chicago as it takes on the Predators, mainly starting with the puck. Chicago finished this season 28th in the league in faceoff win percentage with a 47.4 mark. Compare that to Nashville being eighth in the league at a 51.7 win percentage and the Blackhawks could be chasing the puck, rather than controlling it off the dot.
Many people seem to overlook the importance of faceoffs, and the Blackhawks have done a decent job of being able to establish reasonable possession metrics without great faceoff numbers. But against a team that does it so well, it will be a major challenge to overcome.
Jonathan Toews can’t take every draw and the Blackhawks will need their other centers, mainly Tanner Kero and Marcus Kruger on the penalty kill, to give the team a chance to win the possession battle against Nashville. If they can’t do it consistently, they’re gonna have a bad time.
As stated before, I fully believe that the Blackhawks have what it takes to get by the Predators yet again in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. But, if these matchup problems are not addressed properly, the Blackhawks could fall victim, yet again, to another first-round exit to a bitter rival.