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Round 1

Predators invigorated by sweep of Blackhawks

Nashville confident, eager for second round after dominating series

by Shawn P. Roarke @sroarke_nhl / Director of Editorial

NASHVILLE -- If there was a singular moment that announced the arrival of the Nashville Predators as a serious threat in the Western Conference bracket of the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs, it was defenseman Roman Josi streaking up the ice Thursday with the Predators holding a two-goal lead in the third period.

Logic, at least prevailing hockey logic, would suggest that Josi should have, at best, skated off the ice after a long shift in his own end. At worst, he should have stayed in his own half of the ice, recuperating and preparing for another attack from the desperate and proud Chicago Blackhawks, who were looking to extend the best-of-7 first-round series past Game 4.

Instead, Josi attacked instinctually, getting a step on Chicago center Jonathan Toews, one of the best defensive players in the League. A tic-tac-toe passing play, involving Austin Watson and Colton Sissons, delivered him the puck in stride and he merely needed to redirect it for the Predators third goal in what would become a 4-1 series-clinching victory.


[RELATED: Complete Blackhawks vs. Predators series coverage]


"It doesn't matter if you have the lead or not, we are trying to attack the game and get the next goal," Josi said. "You have to be smart, especially as defensemen, and not risk too much and just jump in blindly. But when there is opportunity, our coach definitely wants us to jump in and join the rush."

The sweep was historic in its unexpectedness. 

The Blackhawks are the third team in NHL history to be swept in the first round of the playoffs after having the best record in their conference during the regular season, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. The 1981 Montreal Canadiens, by the Edmonton Oilers in a best-of-5 preliminary round; and the 1993 Blackhawks, by the St. Louis Blues in the division semifinals, are the others.

The Predators walked the risk/reward line deftly throughout the four-game series, the first sweep in Nashville's history.

Now they await the winner of the series between the St. Louis Blues and the Minnesota Wild. The Blues lead 3-1. Game 5 is Saturday in Minnesota (3 p.m. ET; NBC, SN, TVA Sports, NHL.TV).

The Predators attacked with vigor throughout, particularly the top line of center Ryan Johansen, left wing Filip Forsberg and right wing Viktor Arvidsson, which combined for 15 points in the series. 

They defended with ferocity, shutting down a Chicago team loaded with offensive stars and playoff pedigree.

Toews, the captain, scored on the power play in Game 4 for his only goal of the series. Patrick Kane, who scored 34 goals in the regular season, scored once, in a 3-2 overtime loss in Game 3 here on Monday. Artemi Panarin, who had 31 goals in the regular season, had one assist.

The Blackhawks were outscored 13-3 and led for 22:53 of the 256:44 played. Chicago had one even-strength goal.

"I still think we didn't push in a lot of areas," Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said. We could have had the puck a lot more in a lot of situations, [we] lost lots of those 1-on-1 or those individual battles, [weren't] relentless around the net, missing shots, missing pucks. I think that was contagious. We had to be better."

Video: Crew talks about Predators beating Blackhawks

The Predators wouldn't let the Blackhawks be better. 

They never let the team that had won the Stanley Cup three times in the past seven years get into gear.

Along the way, the Predators put to bed one of its biggest demons. The Blackhawks have had Nashville's number since the Predators entered the League for the 1998-99 season. 

The Central Division rivals had met twice in the postseason, in 2010 and 2015. Chicago won each series in six games. The Blackhawks won four of five games in the 2016-17 season series.

But when it counted most, this Nashville team was far superior. 

"They are such a great organization, a great team with so many great players," Josi said. "We have a lot of respect for them. We lost to them two years ago and it is great to be on the winning side."

For others, it was a statement of Nashville's intentions for the rest of the postseason.

"No doubt, teams will take notice," Johansen said. "If I was on another team and I saw this, I would be impressed by whichever club it was. But we are pretty darn confident in our team game and hopefully we can keep making noise."

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