Blackhawks vs. Predators round 1 preview
by Scott King
After finishing the 2016-2017 regular season with 50 wins, for only the second time in franchise history, the Blackhawks look ready for another long cup run. The team finished first in the Central division and the Western Conference, drawing the Nashville Predators in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the third time since 2010.
The other two times the Hawks caught the Preds in the first round (2010 and 2015), they went on to win the Stanley Cup.
In winning several cups themselves, decorated veterans Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Marian Hossa, Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Niklas Hjalmarsson, Johnny Oduya and Corey Crawford all know how deep you have to dig in the playoffs to hoist the cup at the end of it.
The vets could mesh very well with Hawks’ hungry, eager rookies like Ryan Hartman, Nick Schmaltz and Tanner Kero. Hartman was one of the team’s most consistent players all year long, netting 19 goals in his first full season.
Schmaltz showed he possesses the type of top notch play-making ability that allows him to be productive on the left wing of Hawks captain Jonathan Toews on the team’s first line. Kero gives Chicago depth up the middle as a very reliable young centerman. He was able to shine filling in for Artem Anisimov (lower body) as Patrick Kane’s center on the second line down the stretch.
Speaking of “Showtime,” the superstar forward didn’t lag much this season coming off of a scoring and MVP title in 2016. Kane finished the regular season tied for second in scoring with the Penguins’ Sidney Crosby for 89 points behind Connor McDavid (100). Look for Kane and co., AKA Artemi Panarin, to light the lamp a lot this postseason, especially in the first round.
Chicago will also be out to prove that after an early exit in round one to the St. Louis Blues last year after seven games, the dynasty has far from sizzled out. The players had all year to stew in 2016’s shortcoming and let it burn.
Picking up the multi-talented former Canadiens defenseman P.K. Subban before this season definitely helped shore up the Preds’ defense, but the Blackhawks’ defensive depth certainly takes the cake.
Nashville also lacks the forward depth Chicago possesses. The Blackhawks have undeniable elite scoring spread across their top two lines of Schmaltz-Toews-Panik and Panarin-Anisimov-Kane, not to mention future hall-of-famer Marian Hossa playing among their bottom six. The remainder of the Hawks’ bottom six have proven reliable in shut-down and checking roles.
Filip Forsberg is the Preds’ top offensive weapon to zero in on. The 22-year-old forward tallied 31 goals and 27 assists during the regular season.
Corey Crawford will be looking to prove losing his net in 2015, although he bounced back to help win the series (and the cup), was a fluke. Crawford and Predators goaltender Pekka Rinne logged the same save percentage for the 2016-2017 season (.918), but there’s no arguing with Crawford’s playoff resume. The goaltender also took a little time to regain his form after having an emergency appendectomy earlier in the season.
Rinne’s body of work between the pipes has been more and more inconsistent the last couple of seasons, whereas Crawford has often been the Hawks’ best player.
The Blackhawks posted a 4-1-0 record against the Predators during the 2016-17 regular season.
In the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs the Hawks knocked out the Preds in six games.
Hawks in six.
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