Despite losses in their last four games, the Western Division leading Blackhawks (50-23-9, 109 points) are heading into the playoffs starting Thursday. They’ll face the Nashville Predators (41-29-12, 94 points), who took the number four wild card spot.
Though the Hawks won four of their five meetings this season, they enter playoffs with four consecutive losses while the Predators are fresh off a 3-0 victory over the Minnesota Wild.
Here’s a glance at the match-up, for a better understanding why neither team should be able to skate right through the first round.
Nashville has a pretty consistent but strong roster with Viktor Arvidsson (31 goals and 30 assists in 80 games) leading the way. In 14 career playoff games, he has one goal and one assist.
Ryan Johansen has 14 goals and 47 assists in 80 games this year and six goals with eight assists in 20 career playoff games. James Neal has 23 goals and 18 assists in 70 games this season. Filip Forsberg has 31 goals and 27 assists in 82 games this season with a playoff history of six goals and four assists in 20 games.
Chicago has six 20-plus-point players this year with closely-behind Ryan Hartman‘s 19 goals and 12 assists in 76 games only adding to their offensive depth.
The go-to guys, Patrick Kane (34 goals and 55 assists in 82 games) and Artemi Panarin (31 goals and 44 assists in 82 games) are no doubt a force against defensemen and goalies with a second-consecutive high-scoring season. In the postseason, Kane has 49 goals and 72 assists in 123 games while Panarin has two goals and five assists in seven games.
They’ve been missing one-third of the Blackhawks “Super-PAK,” while Artem Anisimov (22 goals and 23 assists in 64 games this year and eight goals and nine assists in 39 playoff games) recovers from injury. He’s been out since a foot injury March 14 but is expected to play again Thursday.
Veteran Marian Hossa has 26 goals and 19 assists in 73 games this season with 52 goals and 97 assists in 201 career playoff games.
Richard Panik has 22 goals and 22 assists in 82 games.
P.K. Subban has a large presence on and off the ice. He’s a strong defender with production power. He has 10 goals and 30 assists in 66 games this year, and 11 goals and 27 assists in 55 career postseason games. He’s a minus-eight this year and a plus-one in playoffs.
Roman Josi has 12 goals and 37 assists in 72 games and two goals and eight assists in 30 games, but has a minus-15 for playoff matches.
Keith has six goals and 47 assists in 80 games this season (a plus-22), but also has the advantage of 122 playoff games under his belt. In those, he has 18 goals and 62 assists and is a plus-37.
Seabrook tallied three goals, 16 assists in 79 games (a plus-five) this year and is a plus-11 with 20 goals and 39 assists in 119 playoff games.
No one blocks shots like Hjalmarsson. He’s entering the playoffs with five goals and 13 assists (a plus-12) in 73 regular season games and is a plus-26 with two goals and 26 assists in 124 career playoff games.
Oduya has one goal and one assist in 15 games played for Chicago this season. He is a plus-nine with six goals and 22 assists in 102 postseason matches
Pekka Rinne’s recent boost and Corey Crawford‘s less than stellar recent games have the two goalies matched with a .918 save percentage with a 2.24 goals-against average for Rinne in 61 games and a 2.55 goals-against average in 55 games for Crawford.
In playoffs, Rinne has a 2.51 goals-against average and a .912 save percentage in 48 games while Crawford has the postseason upper hand with a 2.26 goals-against average and a .920 save percentage in 83 playoff games.
He hasn’t quite found his mojo, though, since missing time for an appendectomy in December. Fortunately, Chicago seems to have an edge when it comes to backup netminders.
As for backups, Scott Darling has the perk of experience as well. He has a 2.38 goals-against average and a .924 save percentage. He also has the advantage of playoff history with a three out of five wins, a 2.22 goals-against average and a .936 save percentage. Predators backup Juuse Saros has a 2.35 goals-against average and a .923 save percentage in 21 games this season.
History and the future
Chicago is still smarting from a first-round loss to the Blues last season.
The previous two times the Blackhawks have faced the Predators in round one, they won the series’. But, it didn’t come easy.
The Predators lost in the first round to the Hawks in 2015 and to the Los Angeles Kings in the Western Conference second round last season.
Forsberg told NHL.com that he thinks the team could be at an advantage from recent years’ losses.
“The first series against Chicago, it was a lot of players’ first appearance in the playoffs. We got a lot of experience from that and even more from last year. I think we obviously learned a lot of things playing three really good hockey teams in the playoffs. We learned a lot from those three matches and I think if we can put everything together, it can be a good run.”
And, regardless of the history, the slumps, and the stats, it’s certainly hard to forget how Nashville opened this season.
Predators Captain Mike Fisher told NHL.com he hopes to play off Chicago’s speed and skill.
“I think facing a team like Chicago first, it’s going to have to bring the best out of us as a group. We know they’re a great hockey team and they finished first for a reason, so I think we’re going to prepare. We know we’ve got to be at our best. I think that’s a good thing. It’s going to really bring out the best in us as a group.”
It’s also important to remember that the Blackhawks’ losses happened post-clinch with key players resting and Hjalmarsson joining his wife for the birth of their second child.
Captain Jonathan Toews, after scoring his 21st goal of the season, told the Chicago Tribune:
“Guys are maybe getting a bit of mental and physical rest these last couple games, too, so regardless of the results the last few games here on the road, we like where our team is at. We like how everyone is feeling and we’re excited to go forward next week…I think everyone’s looking forward to playoff hockey.”
So, they can put behind Nashville’s domination over Chicago at their season opener and Chicago’s following four consecutive wins. They can forget about Chicago outscoring Nashville 18-10 through the regular season.
Chicago’s home ice could prove an advantage as Nashville is 17-20-4 on the road, lower than any other playoff team. Meanwhile, Chicago is second in the league for road games and, their two first round series against the Predators were in 2010 and 2015.
Toews said the team is ready to host Nashville Thursday and start fresh with their “one goal.”
“I think that energy, that ambition and motivation is back. We have that feeling again, that every single moment and every single game matters. It’s a lot of fun to play at this time of the year. It’s why we work all year to get to this point, and as we have said in the past, the real season begins. Obviously, we want to see what we are made of, and I think we are all pretty confident what we are able to do.”
Because it’s the Cup.
- Blackhawks vs. Predators 7 p.m. C.T. Thursday, April 13 on NBCSN, Sportsnet, TVA Sports
- Blackhawks vs. Predators 7 p.m. C.T. Saturday, April 15, on NBC, Sportsnet, TVA Sports
- Blackhawks at Predators 8:30 p.m. C.T. Monday, April 17, on CNBC, SN ONE, TVA Sports
- Blackhawks at Predators TBD, Thursday, April 20, on SN 360, TVA Sports
- If needed:
- Blackhawks vs. Predators, TBD, Saturday, April 22, TBD
- Blackhawks at Predators, TBD, Monday, April 24, TBD
- Blackhawks vs. Predators, TBD, Wednesday, Aptil 26, TBD