After a jam-packed day of hockey Saturday, the Chicago Blackhawks learned who their first-round opponent will be for the Stanley Cup Playoffs: the Nashville Predators
The Stanley Cup Playoffs are almost here, and the Western Conference’s first-round matchups are almost set. We now know the Chicago Blackhawks will face the Nashville Predators in the opening round, with only the Pacific Division champion still to be decided (Anaheim or Edmonton).
Now that we’re all excited for playoff hockey to begin, let’s take a look at some players who could make a difference for the Blackhawks in this round.
In no particular order, here are five potential breakout stars for the Chicago Blackhawks against the Nashville Predators.
In his first year in the The Show, Schmaltz has had a pretty good rookie debut. He had six goals and 22 assists for 28 points in 61 games.
They’re not the most impressive statistics, but keep in mind Schmaltz just turned 21 this year. He was going up and down the lineup until Joel Quenneville slotted him on the left wing of Jonathan Toews. He’s made some stellar defensive plays, and only has six penalty minutes this season.
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On a team with impressive young guys, Schmaltz is definitely a standout, and he also knows what the pressure of playoffs feels like. His alma mater, the University of North Dakota, went all the way in the 2016 NCAA Frozen Four to beat Quinnipiac 5-1 for the title. That experience may be nothing like the Stanley Cup Playoffs, but it has the same feeling. It’s playoff hockey.
There are other young guys who have been in the playoffs, but being on the roster and being a Black Ace are two different things. And Schmaltz has had that playoff experience in college hockey. I think he’s going to be a key player for the Blackhawks in this series, both defensively and offensively.
2. Marian Hossa
As we all know, demigod Hossa will never stop playing hockey because he is an ageless wonder. While he’s already a star to begin with, Hossa is key to the Blackhawks’ success in the first round.
In 201 career playoff games, he has 52 goals and 97 assists for 149 points. That is kind of good. It’s great, in fact. Hossa’s experience in the Stanley Cup Playoffs will play an ever bigger role this year than it has in the past with so many younger guys on the team.
Since his NHL career began, Hossa has 27 points (11 goals, 16 assists) in 47 games against the Nashville Predators. While those stats are not out of this world, Hossa is one of those players who can make a huge difference in a game, whether it’s scoring the game-tying or game-winning goal, or making a solid defensive play to keep the opposing team from getting a major scoring chance.
With his veteran status and quality leadership, Marian Hossa is going to always be a force to be reckoned with. He might just be the player who makes a difference in this round of the playoffs.
3. Patrick Kane
If there’s any player the Nashville Predators should be scared of, it’s definitely Kane. With 50 points (23 goals, 27 assists) in 53 career games against them, it’s obvious Kane likes playing against this team. The only team he has more points against is the St. Louis Blues (51).
While this year wasn’t the same as his last season, Kane still led the team in almost every category (34 goals, 55 assists, 89 points). It’s his second-highest point total ever, behind his MVP season (106 points). He also averaged the most time on ice of his career, clocking in at 21:24, which led all forwards.
As we all know, Kane plays a vital role on this team, and his statistics this year show he’s easily one of the most important pieces of the postseasonpuzzle.
If the Blackhawks struggle to score during this round of the playoffs, Kane is going to be the crucial player this team needs to ensure it is going to move on. I don’t think the Blackhawks are going to have a hard time against the Predators, but if they do, Kane is going to put his team on his back and carry them to the series win if he has to.
4. Tanner Kero
OK, so let’s stray away from the obvious for a second. Since Artem Anisimov went down with injury, Kero has done a fantastic job filling in as the second-line center between Artemi Panarin and Kane.
Let’s forget about statistics for a second and appreciate that Kero is one of the best defensive forwards on this team full of defensive forwards. He’s an important part of the penalty kill. He averages 1:25 on the penalty kill, which is fourth-most among all forwards on the Blackhawks. That’s mighty impressive.
And he’s not bad offensively, either. He only has 15 points in 47 games, but most of his time in the NHL has been spent on the third and fourth lines. He’s had an abundance on chances as of late, totaling 19 shots on goal in his last 10 games of the season.
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In two of those games, he had five shots on goal. So if he can tally a couple of points in this series, he’s going to make a big difference for the Blackhawks.
Kero’s complete 200-foot game is the most impressive thing about him. His stick-checking and takeaway ability are just a couple of reasons Quenneville trusts him. It’ll be great to see what role he plays in the first round of the playoffs.
After Anisimov went down with injury last month, the Blackhawks were struggling a bit, and everyone noticed. Since the Montréal game in which Anisimov was hurt, the Blackhawks have allowed 39 goals in 13 games. Their record since that game 6-3-4.
Not awful, but not fantastic either. The team has blown two multi-goal leads in that span of 13 games, including a 4-1 lead against the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Before his injury, Anisimov was having a career year. He tied his career high in goals (22) and had a career high in points (45). He most likely would’ve passed his career high in goals and assists had he not been injured.
But unfortunately, you can’t have everything. And the team, as well as the fans, are lucky the injury wasn’t severe enough to take him out of the rest of the season and the playoffs. According to Quenneville, Anisimov will be ready to go for Game 1 of the playoffs.
Not only is he significant offensively, but his defense is what the Blackhawks were missing. As noted above, the Blackhawks weren’t the best defensively after he got hurt. The team greatly missed his big 6-foot-4 frame on the penalty kill.
Guaranteed, with a few other players back in the lineup, the team’s defense will automatically improve. But Anisimov is an important forward, and it showed in those games he missed.
There you have it! Those are the potential breakout stars I believe can make a difference in the first round against the Nashville Predators with the hopes of moving on to the second round. Who are some of the players you think will make a difference for the Chicago Blackhawks in the first round?