It’s the most wonderful day of the year and that’s the start of the Stanley Cup playoffs. The Nashville Predators face the unenviable task of taking down perennial championship contenders, the Chicago Blackhawks.
Today, fellow Predators writer Peter Denton and I discuss the burning questions surrounding the opening-round series.
The experts are overwhelmingly going with the Blackhawks to beat the Predators. Is there anything the Preds have that can give them a sense of optimism?
Peter Denton: Pekka Rinne. Yes, after his injury he hasn’t been the same as his SV% has been dropping. But his near-acrobatic puck-stopping abilities could be enough to hold Chicago at bay. The Predators need him to step up in the postseason, a time in which his record has been solid (0.916 SV% over 28 games and three different post-seasons).
Dan Mount: The defense. Let’s not forget the Predators boast one of the most versatile defenses in the league. Shea Weber and Roman Josi are one of the best duos in the league, while Seth Jones is starting to emerge. The D also chips in an inordinate amount of goals, which will be needed.
Nashville has really been limping going into the postseason, as they’re on another losing streak. I know Colin Fitts touched on it earlier, but what’s got you guys worried the most?
DM: The penchant for blowing leads. Nashville used to be lights out when they had a lead in the first half, but they’ve let things get away during their second-half funk. They’ve got to find a way to build on when they score first.
PD: Since the Predators clinched the playoffs with six games to go in the regular season, they haven’t won a game. This tells me that the problems are systemic. Going from President’s trophy front-runner to unable to put together a win means that the problems aren’t limited to one part of the game. It is going to be up to coach Peter Laviolette to put his team back on track to face Chicago.
What does Nashville have to do to pull the upset?
PD: The Preds need their top players to keep playing well. Young goalscorer Filip Forsberg (four points in these last six losses) and blueliner Roman Josi need to keep up their consistent levels of play. In addition to maintaining what they already have, the Predators need to figure out how to be successful on the power play. Chicago will make short work of Nashville if they can give up man advantages with no risk of retribution.
DM: Get some bottom-six scoring. The lack of help from the third and fourth lines will put the Preds behind the eight ball against a deep Blackhawks team. The top two lines can keep up with Kane and Toews’ lines, but someone needs to step up. Kevin Fiala could play a huge role because he’s an unknown element.
How much will the Patrick Kane factor play in the series? How much of a difference will to quote Iggy Azalea “Bringing 88 back” mean?
PD: Big. He’s the center of attention. For a young franchise, attempting another foray into the postseason, plagued by inconsistent play down the stretch, the psychological impact of a big time star will be hard to overlook.
DM: He’s one of “the” superstars on the club along with Toews. He’s fast, he’s a great shot and a proven winner. He didn’t earn the nickname “Showtime” because it sounds cool.
What one thing about Chicago has you guys worried the most?
DM: The fact they can just flip the switch and be Cup-contenders at a moment’s notice. The Hawks haven’t been all that good since the Kane injury. Chicago was third in the division last year and flipped the script on St. Louis and beat Minnesota before losing a hard-fought conference final against Los Angeles. The Blackhawks just show up and know how to win in the postseason.
PD: Experience. Chicago has postseason experience lasting through the playoffs, especially so recently. While coach Laviolette knows what he is doing with plenty of playoff level experience points himself, the Preds recent struggles emphasizes that the team isn’t firing together on all cylinders yet.
Who needs to step up for the Predators?
PD: As previously mentioned, I think that the most important this is consistent play. This team has the capability to be the best in the league, but people like Forsberg, Josi, and Rinne need to be at their absolute best, something that the team’s minimal playoff experience might be problematic.
DM: The special teams. The Predators should have one of the better units with great puck-moving defensemen like Weber and Josi and the accurate shot of James Neal. However, they’ve struggled with the man-up and have been inconsistent on the penalty kill.
And finally your prediction
DM: I’d love to say Nashville just because the tide is so against them, but I’ll take Chicago in six.
PD: The Preds have the ability to make it close and inconsistent, so I’ll say seven games with the last a 50-50. A coin flip says that the Preds pick up game seven and continue to round two.
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