Chicago Blackhawks-Nashville Predators Rivalry Starts Now

NASHVILLE, TN - APRIL 20: Pekka Rinne
NASHVILLE, TN - APRIL 20: Pekka Rinne /

Last year when the Nashville Predators eliminated the Chicago Blackhawks from the playoffs, a rivalry was born

Reality sunk in two years ago when the St. Louis Blues bested the Chicago Blackhawks in a Game 7 overtime thriller that times were changing.  The Blues had been clawing at the Blackhawks for the last couple seasons, knowing that the road to the Stanley Cup will always have to run through Chicago, at least for the near future.

The Nashville Predators had that same thought in 2017.

Much like when former Bears head coach Lovie Smith was hired in Chicago and vowed to “beat the Packers,” Predators GM David Poile has designed his team to beat the Blackhawks.  The difference is Poile has already achieved his goal and lead his team all the way to the Stanley Cup Final.

Chicago Blackhawks

The series between the Blackhawks and Predators last season was a shock to many ‘Hawks fans who watched their team compete all year despite injuries and win the Western Conference.  As for Nashville fans, they got to see a pure dismantlement of modern-day model franchise at the hands of their young team in the form of a sweep.

To their credit, the Predators out-worked and out-coached the Blackhawks while playing like they had something to prove, scoring in a variety of different ways and playing great defense.

Fan rivalry

The Predators were one of the first teams to keep visiting Chicago fans from buying tickets to away games by instituting the “Keep the Red Out” campaign.

They also encouraged their own fans to take part in Blackhawks-bashing pregame activities such as “hit the Blackhawks car with a sledgehammer.”  Nashville is also known for their collegiate-type atmosphere, including stadium-wide chants that reach decibels so loud they influence gameplay much like a football game.

After the sweep of the Blackhawks last season, fans hit the streets and started celebrating like they’d won the Stanley Cup. In reality, getting past a huge obstacle like the six-time Stanley Cup-champion Chicago Blackhawks warrants celebration.

Preds fans also took to Twitter and let the ‘Hawks fans what had happened, in case they were unaware.  The response from Blackhawks fans mostly involved priding their previously won Stanley Cups and being forced to take golfing jokes from relentless Preds fans.

Team history

Rivalries aren’t established overnight.  They generally involve proximity, multiple meetings per year and a history of bitter hate, sometimes extending for reasons beyond hockey.

Teams like the Blackhawks and Detroit Red Wings have had many years of playing in the same division, and being a part of the Original Six teams to start the NHL.  Because of their long history, the bad blood of the rivalry has been handed down from generation to generation.

But since the Red Wings moved to the Eastern Conference a few years ago, the rivalry hasn’t been the same. The Blackhawks also have a rivalry with the St. Louis Blues, who haven’t been afraid to go toe-to-toe with their division foes.

What makes the Nashville Predators finally a rival of the Chicago Blackhawks is their multiple meetings in the playoffs and their ability to beat each other.

An interesting fact is that every time the Blackhawks and Predators have met in the playoffs, the winning team has gone on to play in the Stanley Cup Final.  This was the case when the Blackhawks beat the Preds in 2010 and 2015, and when the Preds beat the ’Hawks last year.

As a future indicator, the Blackhawks need to get past the Predators, who seem to be poised to compete for more Stanley Cup Final appearances in the future.

New Predators

Nashville has made several offseason moves that signal the team is starting a new chapter in Predators history.  They locked up RFAs Viktor Arvidsson and Ryan Johansen to long-term contracts while shedding forwards James Neal and Colin Wilson.

They are also awaiting a decision from longtime Predator and captain Mike Fisher on if he will return for the 2017-18 season or retire from the NHL.

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If Fisher chooses to retire, the leading candidate for captain should be standout defenseman Roman Josi. Josi was an alternate captain last year and led debatably the best defensive core in the league to the Stanley Cup Final.

Praised for his leadership and defensive prowess, the hybrid defender would be a solid choice to lead the Predators into a new era of hockey in Nashville. He also possesses one of the best contracts in the league at $4M AAV for the next two years, comparative to Duncan Keith‘s $5.5M AAV.

The combination of the fan hatred, playoff history and two franchises set to compete for the Central Division title the next handful of years are all reasons why the Blackhawks-Predators games may be a much more sought after ticket than in years past.

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Many thought Minnesota would emerge as the next Blackhawks’ rival, but they have failed to surpass the ’Hawks and go deep in the playoffs.  It will be interesting to see how competitive the Blues are next year after going through a coaching change, a captain change and lost a good defender in Kevin Shattenkirk.  The Stars will also look to rebound from a down year after a successful 2015-16 campaign.

Regardless, the Central Division has never been stronger.