The Chicago Blackhawks rely on a disciplined game built almost exclusively around their small, talented core, but the Nashville Predators will be at liberty to take some chances, knowing that they can get scoring from any line, at any position, and at any manpower situation.
[RELATED: Blackhawks-Predators coverage | Series preview ]
According to the underlying numbers, the game flow could favor the Blackhawks in the opening period before the Predators open things up with their typically dominant second-period play, leaving the game wide open in the third. Here are five interesting stats about this series:
Don't take your eyes off the scoreboard, because the lead could change hands several times. The Predators struggled in the first period but dominated the second, which is when the Blackhawks struggled. Each team was effective in the third.
In the first period, Nashville was outscored 67-55, which ranked last among teams that qualified for the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Chicago outscored its opponents 74-56 in the first.
The Predators scored 101 goals in the second period, which was second to the Pittsburgh Penguins, who scored 102 while allowing 69, which was the third-fewest. Chicago was outscored 78-70 in the second period, which ranked last among playoff teams.
In sharp contrast, with the highly physical nature of the playoffs, Chicago may continue to play a more disciplined and skill-focused game.
A team's physicality can be measured in terms of hits and minor penalties, in which Chicago had the fewest with 1,178 hits, and third-fewest with 226 minor penalties.
Video: CHI@PIT: Panik buries a sizzling one-timer
At the individual level, the two most physical players are Richard Panik and Ryan Hartman, who had 147 hits and 18 minor penalties, and 121 hits and 20 minor penalties, respectively.
With a penalty killing percentage of 77.7 percent, which ranked last among playoff teams and 24th in the NHL, it is to their advantage that the Blackhawks maintain this level of discipline.
Given the Predators' League-leading 12 shorthanded goals, the Blackhawks will have to remain defensively vigilant, even when they have the man-advantage.
In particular, Viktor Arvidsson and Filip Forsberg can be dangerous while killing penalties. Arvidsson led the NHL with five shorthanded goals; Forsberg was tied for fifth with three.
Video: MIN@NSH: Forsberg deflects Josi's shot past Stalock
At age 23, Arvidsson had a breakout season for the Predators, which could carry over into the playoffs. In all manpower situations, Arvidsson tied Forsberg for the Predators lead with 31 goals, and Ryan Johansen with 61 points.
The Blackhawks ranked last in the NHL with one shorthanded goal, which was scored by Marian Hossa.
The Blackhawks were the only team with six forwards who scored at least 20 goals this season. With one more goal, Hartman would have given them seven.
Patrick Kane (34 goals), Artemi Panarin (31), Hossa (26), Artem Anisimov (22), Panik (22), Jonathan Toews (21), and Hartman (19) combined for 175 of Chicago's 240 goals, which was 72.9 percent of its scoring.
In contrast, Nashville's scoring was spread out among many players, including nine forwards and three defensemen who scored at least 10 goals.
One of the most overlooked factors in playoff success is the experience of a coaching staff.
Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville leads active coaches with 1,539 NHL career games, and Mike Kitchen's 24 seasons of experience as an assistant rank third behind Rick Wilson of the St. Louis Blues (27), and Doug Jarvis of the Vancouver Canucks (25).