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Instant Analysis: Predators Face Blackhawks in First Round

by Thomas Willis / Nashville Predators

Game action on the final day of the regular season was required to determine the Nashville Predators opponent in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs that begin on April 15.

But it’s now official: The Predators and Chicago Blackhawks will meet in the Western Conference Quarterfinals, with the series beginning in Nashville.

Schedule:

Date: Time (CT): Location: TV Info: Buy Tickets:
Wednesday, April 15 7:30 p.m. Bridgestone Arena FS-TN, NBCSN Game 1
Friday, April 17 8:30 p.m. Bridgestone Arena SPSO, NBCSN Game 2
Sunday, April 19 2:00 p.m. United Center NBC Game 3
Tuesday, April 21 8:30 p.m. United Center FS-TN, NBCSN Game 4
Thursday, April 23 TBD Bridgestone Arena FS-TN, TBD Game 5
Saturday, April 25 TBD United Center FS-TN, TBD Game 6
Monday, April 27 TBD Bridgestone Arena FS-TN, TBD Game 7

Here’s
Here's a quick look at how the teams’ regular season matchups played out and analysis on the upcoming playoff clash between the Central Division rivals.


Season Series:

Nashville regular season record versus Chicago: 1-1-2

Season Series Leaders:

Chicago: Goals: Marian Hossa (3) Assists: Duncan Keith (4) Points: Duncan Keith (4)

Nashville: Goals: James Neal (5) Assists: Colin Wilson, Mike Ribeiro, Filip Forsberg (3) Points: James Neal (5)

October 19, 2014, at United Center: Blackhawks 2, Predators 1 (OT)

After Shea Weber’s power-play goal tied the contest at one with eight minutes left in the first frame, a defensive struggled played out over the next two periods and into overtime. In the extra session, Hawks Captain Jonathan Toews got his own rebound off of Carter Hutton’s pads and tallied the shorthanded, game-winning goal. Hutton made 35 saves in his first start of the season, and the Predators gave up their first goal-against while on the power play in nearly a calendar year.

October 23, 2014, at Bridgestone Arena: Predators 3, Blackhawks 2

Four days after falling in Chicago, Nashville became the final team in the NHL without a regulation loss to begin the season when they took down the Hawks thanks to James Neal’s natural hat trick.

“It’s nice to see a sniper like that work; he has one of the best shots in the League, clearly,” Preds netminder Pekka Rinne said following the victory. “He used his shot tonight. Beautiful goals, all of them. It was huge game by him individually.”

December 6, 2014, at Bridgestone Arena: Blackhawks 3, Predators 1

Goaltender Scott Darling, a former member of the Predators organization, was in net as the Hawks ended the Predators seven-game winning streak at home. Colin Wilson cut Chicago’s lead to 2-1 early in the third period, but the Preds were unable to find the equalizer over the next 19 minutes of regulation. Marian Hossa added his second goal of the night via an empty netter to seal the win for the visitors.

“You’re going to look at tonight’s game and break down the stats - the shots are the same, the chances are the same and the shots at the net are the same,” Nashville Head Coach Peter Laviolette said after his team’s narrow loss. “They got one more than we did. We move forward from here and get ready for the next one.”

December 29, 2014, at United Center: Blackhawks 5, Predators 4 (SO)

The teams’ final meeting of the regular season was again a tight one in regard to the final score, but within the game, it was anything but.

Nashville raced out to a 3-0 lead, just to see Chicago tie the contest before the second period was out. James Neal put the Preds back ahead with his second of the night (and fifth of the season against the Hawks) in the final minute of the middle frame, but the Blackhawks would later answer again. Bryan Bickell evened the game at 4-4 with Corey Crawford off for the extra attacker and Patrick Kane capped off the comeback in the shootout.


Analysis:

The Hawks and Predators played such a tight season series (essentially every game was decided by one goal) because both clubs are comfortable with playing either an offensive, attacking style or a locked-down, defensive approach. Take the first and last meetings for example. Both games required extra time, but the first featured only one regulation goal for each team, while the other saw a total of 82 shots on goal and both clubs scoring four times.

With Nashville and Chicago not facing one another in four months, reacclimating to each other could swing drastically to either end of the spectrum - don’t be surprised if Game One is 0-0 late in regulation or even 5-5.

In another odd twist, the starting goaltenders for this Quarterfinals series - Pekka Rinne and Corey Crawford - only squared off once in the regular season. And that was the Dec. 29 matchup in which Rinne allowed four goals on 42 shots against and Crawford let in four goals on 40 shots faced. Rinne finished 1-1-1 against the Hawks, while Crawford went 2-0-0 against the Preds. If one of these netminders heats up early in the series, watch out.

Finishing second in the Central, the Predators will hold home ice advantage in this series with Games One, Two, Five* and Seven* being played at Bridgestone Arena (*if necessary). Nashville was simply dominant at home in 2014-15, amassing a 28-9-4 record in their own barn - good for the second most home wins in the NHL. Nashville’s play in Music City has slipped a bit of late, however, with the club finishing their last four at home with an 0-2-2 mark. Regaining their earlier magic in Smashville will be of the utmost importance, and the X-factor in the series, for the Preds.

It’s safe to consider the health of Blackhawks forward Patrick Kane the X-factor for Chicago in round one. The 26-year-old winger was leading the NHL in points when he suffered a broken clavicle on Feb. 24. Whether or not he suits up in the Quarterfinals is still uncertain, but the Chicago Tribune has reported Kane is “progressing very well.”

Game of the series: Hawks’ late comeback for a shootout win on December 29.

Moment of the series: James Neal’s natural hat trick on October 23.

X-Factors: Home Ice (Predators); Patrick Kane (Blackhawks)

Stat of note: The Blackhawks finished the regular season 0-4-0 in their last four games. The Predators were 0-4-2 in their six contests preceding the postseason.

History: The Predators and Blackhawks have met once before in the postseason. In 2010, Chicago tied Game Five late in regulation and won in overtime to take a 3-2 series lead. Ultimately, the Hawks claimed a six-game victory in the teams’ Western Conference Quarterfinals series. Chicago would continue on to win their first Stanley Cup in over 40 years later that postseason.

The Preds’ Shea Weber, Pekka Rinne, Colin Wilson and Cody Franson were on Nashville’s roster for the playoff meeting with the Hawks five years ago.

Games One, Two, Five* and Seven* (*if necessary) will be played at Bridgestone Arena: Buy tickets

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