With a big victory by a margin of 4-2 in Chicago in game 3 on Sunday, the Blackhawks have set themselves up nicely to take a commanding 3-1 series lead on home ice tonight against Nashville. The Predators will again be without their captain and best defenseman Shea Weber. Weber was ruled out for games 3 and 4 following an injury sustained in Game 2 in Nashville. The Chicago Blackhawks will look to take advantage of this, and here are three main keys for them to emerge victorious tonight.
1. Pressure Pekka
Pekka Rinne has not exactly gotten off to an ideal start in this series. Out of the 21 netminders to make playoff appearances so far, Rinne ranks 17th with a rather poor .898 save percentage.
The Blackhawks appear to have caught Rinne at just the right time. Once considered a Hart Trophy candidate, Rinne’s performance slipped as the season wound down to a close. Obviously, the start of the playoffs has not helped him much at all. It’s crucial that the Chicago Blackhawks make sure that the struggling Finnish goalie faces as much rubber as possible tonight.
On Sunday, they got 4 of the 30 shots they got on goal past Rinne. His confidence can’t be very high right now, so the Blackhawks can’t afford to let him get comfortable. Rattling Rinne is the best chance Chicago has of stepping on Nashville’s throats and ending this one quickly, so making sure he hears Chelsea Dagger early and often tonight is key.
2. Dominant Darling
I mentioned before that out of 21 goalies with playoff appearances thus far, Rinne ranks 17th in terms of save percentage. The man who ranks first is none other than Scott Darling. I wrote a post recently calling for Chicago to return to Darling in game 3, and the results of the game did nothing except validate Coach Quenneville’s decision. In that post, I made a loose comparison of 2015 Scott Darling to 2006 Cam Ward .
I stand by that comparison, and as long as Darling’s hand is hot, he has to be the guy in between the pipes for the Blackhawks. I wouldn’t have him on a very long leash, however, and definitely not one as long as the one Corey Crawford had prior to the switch being made.
If Darling can come up with another solid performance tonight, that will go a long way to getting the Blackhawks yet another win. The goaltending is important, of course, but to take advantage of the current edge (as weird as that is to think about given who the two goalies are) the Blackhawks possess in net, they will really need to…
3. Win the Possession BattleThis may come as no surprise to those of you who are up to date on the analytics side of things, but in each of the three games of this series so far, the team who has won the corsi close battle (5v5 shot attempts in when 1 goal game in 1st/2nd, tie game in 3rd/OT) has gone on to win the game.
In game 1, Chicago held a 70-61 advantage in score close 5v5 shot attempts. In game 2 the script flipped, and Nashville had a 36-32 edge. Game 3 was the closest of the three by corsi close, but Chicago came out on top 34-33.
If the Blackhawks are going to take advantage of Darling’s surge and Rinne’s slump, they cannot allow themselves to be drastically outpossessed or outshot tonight. This isn’t a huge concern, as the Blackhawks are an excellent possession team, but the Predators are too. It’s definitely something to keep an eye on as the game progresses.
So there you have it. Those are my three keys for tonight’s game 4. If all goes right for the Blackhawks, I foresee another win tonight and a quick end for this series in game 5 in Nashville as I predicted in my series preview. If, however, the Hawks cannot hold serve and Nashville claims victory tonight, we’re looking at a whole different story.