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Playoffs: Four Deciding Factors in Preds vs. Hawks

Preds Hold Special Teams Advantage While Hawks Boast Moxie, Swagger

by Thomas Willis @TomAWillis / Digital Manager & Producer

Hawks Swagger: When you've won three Stanley Cups in the last seven years, moxie and confidence rise to the forefront. This postseason, the Hawks will be looking for their fourth championship in eight seasons, a dynasty that began in 2010 when Chicago defeated Nashville in six games in the First Round en route to taking out the Philadelphia Flyers in the Stanley Cup Final.

While parts of the personnel have changed dramatically, the core has remained untouched. Forwards Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Marian Hossa, along with defensemen Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook and Niklas Hjalmarsson have been through it all for Chicago, bringing a proven, veteran lineup that few can rival.

Simply put, throw a wrinkle at the Hawks and they've likely seen it before and found out how to come out on the winning side. Nashville will be challenged to gain the upperhand in a game's pivotal moments, such as when the score is tied late or in overtime.

Special Teams: Preds Head Coach Peter Laviolette often says winning the special teams battle can lead to victory in a game or even a playoff series.

Nashville claimed the League's 16th-best power play (18.9 percent) and 15th-ranked penalty kill (80.9 percent) during the regular season, rankings that both finished ahead of Chicago (18.0 percent on power play for 19th; 77.7 percent on penalty kill for 25th).  

The Predators racked up five power-play goals during the season series, including three in an Opening Night win. Nashville also led the NHL in shorthanded goals with 12 in 2016-17.

With the Preds' offense on the power play starting with Roman Josi and P.K. Subban, if the Preds defensemen can exploit the Hawks suspect penalty kill, Nashville could steal at least one game in the series due to their conversion with the man advantage.

Home Ice Advantage: Historically, clubs with home-ice advantage in the playoffs emerge as the series winner, but the Blackhawks have taken that stat to another level.

Under Head Coach Joel Quenneville, Chicago has held home ice for 12 series. They've won 11 of them, with the lone series loss coming in 2014 in overtime in Game Seven to the Los Angeles Kings, that season's eventual Cup winner.

This is the third time Nashville and Chicago will meet in the playoffs, with the Blackhawks holding home ice two out of three times. The Preds won Game One at United Center in 2010, earning a split in the opening two games; something the Hawks turned around and did in Nashville in the 2015 meeting.

With four of the potentially seven games being hosted at United Center, the Preds must take at least one of the opening two games in Chicago to avoid creating a perilous path for themselves.

Healthy at the Right Time: Injuries forced the Preds defensive corps to only play a limited number of games together as cohesive group, due to Roman Josi, P.K. Subban and Ryan Ellis missing extended periods of time.

Nashville's blue line has finally healed over approximately the last month of the season with the team's top unit of six defensemen logging the minutes the Preds coaching staff envisioned prior to the 2016-17 campaign. Since March 15, Ellis (4g-4a), Josi (1g-6a) and Subban (2g-3a) have outscored most of the members of the Hawks defensive group with Brent Seabrook (0g-6a) and Duncan Keith (1g-5a) also cracking the Top 50 in blue line scoring in the NHL.

Offense from the blue line is arguably the catalyst for Nashville's success and the Predators have to be pleased that their six-man unit has been producing at a high level. The Preds will need their defense plunging into the offensive zone like a fourth forward to throw the Hawks' defensive system off balance.

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