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Chicago Blackhawks’ 5 Keys To Victory Against Nashville Predators

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Mar 23, 2017; Chicago, IL, USA; A general shot of Stanley Cup banners during the national anthem prior to the first period between the Chicago Blackhawks and the Dallas Stars at the United Center. Mandatory Credit: Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 23, 2017; Chicago, IL, USA; A general shot of Stanley Cup banners during the national anthem prior to the first period between the Chicago Blackhawks and the Dallas Stars at the United Center. Mandatory Credit: Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports /
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A strong performance from the core of the Chicago Blackhawks will allow depth players to play under less stress, providing ingredients for a series victory in the Stanley Cup Playoffs against the Nashville Predators

It’s that time again, Chicago Blackhawks fans. The ‘Hawks are set to square off with the Nashville Predators in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs starting Thursday night at the United Center.

The Predators have traditionally played a style of hockey that is typical of the Central Division’s heavy hitters, but some recent additions give this opponent a different look. Let’s take a look at some keys to a Blackhawks series victory.

1. Patience in the defensive zone

The first two keys I’ll cover have to do with the defensive responsibility and awareness of the Blackhawks’ forwards — wingers in particular. Last year, the Blackhawks were having a hard time beating Brian Elliott in their first-round matchup with the Blues that ended in heartbreaking fashion.

As a result, wingers began to play a little too loose with their point coverage, and ended up leaving the defensive zone too early in an attempt to make something out of nothing on the rush.

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While the stretch pass can be an excellent way to create an odd-man situation, those point shots getting through have a way of pin-balling their way into the net in April. It seemed like Colton Parayko and Kevin Shattenkirk shots rained down on Corey Crawford throughout the entire series last year.

This year, the ’Hawks are deep enough up and down the lineup to play patiently in their end zone, allowing plays to progress more naturally. Point coverage will be key.

2. Be aware of the Predators’ new look

In a move that redefined the team’s defensive style and structure, the Nashville Predators replaced Shea Weber with P.K. Subban last summer. While Weber may have the hardest shot in the league, the Predators leaned largely on his defensive abilities, clogging up the neutral zone and being tough in front of Pekka Rinne’s net.

This year, the ‘Hawks face a different monster in the unpredictable Subban. Subban gives the team a more dynamic feel. He will jump into the rush unexpectedly, make risky plays to keep the puck in the ‘Hawks’ zone and be an ever-present offensive threat.

This makes the Preds a different team than the previous two the ‘Hawks have eliminated. They will need to be aware of the different offensive weapons the Preds have in players like Subban, Ryan Johansen, Viktor Arvidsson and Filip Forsberg.

3. Defensive dependability

Chicago Blackhawks

The Blackhawks are far deeper on the back end this year than they have been in years past. I believe a dependable performance out of Johnny Oduya and Niklas Hjalmarsson is going to be the biggest key in a successful playoff run for this team. I write this under the assumption the two will be reunited come Thursday, which will subsequently mean a Duncan Keith/Brent Seabrook reunion as well.

These pairings are ideal. With this combination, the Blackhawks have two very solid shutdown pairings that can play under any circumstance and against any team’s top forwards. As the playoffs progress, consistency within the pairings will be crucial to building key chemistry — something Oduya and Hjalmarsson have plenty of.

Leaning on the bottom pairing to eat largely inconsequential minutes is also something I’d advocate for. I don’t see Brian Campbell or Trevor van Riemsdyk being the guys to successfully eat up minutes in the third period of a tied playoff game.

4. Faceoffs need to get better fast

It’s no secret the Blackhawks have had some struggles at the faceoff circle this year. The only player in the ‘Hawks lineup to consistently win more than half of his draws was captain Jonathan Toews. Andrew Desjardins also fared well at the dot this year, so don’t be surprised if you see his name creep into a Game 6 or 7 lineup (should this series go that far).

Getting Artem Anisimov back for the playoffs will improve the Blackhawks’ chances tremendously. He is dependable at the dot in tight situations and rounds off the ‘Hawks’ top six as well as anyone. A stronger performance than we’ve seen of late from Marcus Kruger will be important as well. The Preds’ Johansen and Mike Fisher are two of the league’s best at the dot, and puck possession becomes infinitely more important in mid-April.

5. O’ captain, our captain

Finally, I cannot stress enough how important the continued success of Toews is going to be throughout the playoffs. The resurgence of his play throughout the second half of the season is without question the single most influential factor in the ‘Hawks’ tremendous February/March run that landed them home ice throughout the firs three rounds.

He makes the Blackhawks’ top line dangerous with his ability to use Richard Panik, Nick Schmaltz and potentially Marian Hossa to their strengths.

While Toews played a solid series fundamentally and defensively, I’d argue the ‘Hawks didn’t get enough out of their captain last spring in their bout with the Blues. Toews has since returned to his more productive ways, and I think he will be the X-factor in this series. When Toews and Patrick Kane play well, the Blackhawks win. It’s really that simple.

Next: 'Hawks/Preds Position Breakdown

Finally, in an anecdotal bit, I’d implore everyone watching the Blackhawks’ playoff run this year to take moments to appreciate the success this team has had for almost a decade, and how lucky we are to once again be watching a team that is competitive mid-April through June.

More to come before and after Thursday’s opener. Go Blackhawks.

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