Western Conference Quarterfinal
Nashville Predators @ Chicago Blackhawks
United Center, 7:30 pm CST
TV: Fox Sports Tennessee | Radio: 104.5 The Zone, Predators Radio Network
Oh, those pesky Harlem Globetrotters. Forever chased by the Washington Generals, they also managed to stall the start of the Predators series against the Blackhawks one more night as they invaded the United Center Thursday night. But tonight, it’s down to business as the last of the NHL’s first round playoff series gets under way.
For both Nashville and Chicago, the question will be getting out of the gates. The Hawks have not played in five days, the Predators six. On top of that, Nashville has not played a whole lot in the past week, just two games dating back to Sunday, April 4. As Stu Grimson put it today at lunch “I don’t think the first period tonight will be in any way indicative of the pace of this series.” Translation: Both teams might be a bit slow to get it going, but this should be a hold on to your hat type of clash!
Chicago plays up-tempo, fast-skating offense in addition to very good defense. Missing Kim Johnsson (concussion – no timetable) and Brian Campbell (clavicle – day-to-day) for Game One will hurt, and it also means splitting up the dynamic duo of Seabrook and Keith while reassigning Dustin Byfuglien back to the blue line (where he started his pro career). It will be interesting to see if the few games they’ve played with the new pairings is enough to fuse them together – and defensive coverage in front of rookie Antti Niemi will be vital to helping the Hawks win.
In the other end, Pekka Rinne
must play well for the Preds in his first NHL playoff action. Nashville may get a boost from the return of Denis Grebeshkov on the blue line, but as of this morning head coach Barry Trotz had not decided whether he will reinsert the offensive d-man back in for tonight’s action. Patric Hornqvist
is also likely to play tonight, giving Nashville much needed presence in front of the Blackhawks net.
The Predators have scored by committee all year, and so the hope always exists that someone could have a big game and help them pull through what could be tough sledding after so little hockey the last two weeks. I can look to Colin Wilson
to be very excited and energetic tonight, Hornqvist as well, and who knows if this isn’t a perfect avenue for Dustin Boyd or Marcel Goc to step up their game at the right time. Either way, I get the feeling tonight’s hero will be an unsung one. We shall see.Notes:
Keys to the Game
- Rinne was one of the NHL’s hottest goaltenders post-Olympics, going 12-4-1 with a 2.03 GAA and .928 save % along with four of his seven shutouts.
- Brian Campbell was not expected back for almost another month, but surprised even his teammates Wednesday by practicing with the team. While ruled out for Game One, Campbell would not rule himself out of any other contest in the series.
- Troy Brouwer is back after missing four games to deal with a family situation back in Canada.
- The 7 seed has beaten the 2 seed in 14 of the last 30 series dating back 15 seasons. Every year from 1997 to 2006 at least one 7 seed pulled off the upset, but the last three seasons, the 2 has won every time. Time to reverse the trend once again?
- Traffic, bodies, construction equipment, etc. in front of Niemi. Whatever you can find, put it in front of the net and try to bounce a puck off it. Rattle the Cager!
- Attack the Hawks! Make the defensemen move the puck, and try to exploit a bit of unfamiliarity to lead to breakdowns in coverage or defensive zone exits.
- Don’t let your guard down. The one shift you aren’t going 100%, when you don’t make that simple play, is the one that can get stuffed right back down your throat. Always be on guard.