With the NHL playoffs action set to begin tonight, the Chicago Blackhawks are among the eight teams who will play their first game of the 2015 postseason this evening. They’ll take on the Nashville Predators in a best of seven series with the winner looking to take on the winner of the other Central division series between St. Louis and Minnesota.
1. Ease Patrick Kane Back In
Having the dynamic winger back will be huge for the Blackhawks’ Stanley Cup hopes, but the Stanley Cup isn’t won in games one and two of the first round. Look for Kane to play no more than 16 minutes tonight. He’ll skate with his regular linemates, Brad Richards and Kris Versteeg, on a second unit that the coaching staff hopes will provide excellent scoring support behind the top line of Brandon Saad, Jonathan Toews, and Marian Hossa.
2. Get Secondary Offensive Contribution
As mentioned prior, we will not likely see Patrick Kane in full force tonight. He’ll have to shake off rust, get used to the speed of the game, etc. And with Nashville’s top pairing of Roman Josi and Shea Weber set to square off with Chicago’s top forward line, it’s highly possible that Chicago will not get a goal out of their top six forwards tonight.
Look for Bryan Bickell to find his way onto the scoresheet. Known for following up his disappointing regular seasons with outstanding playoff performances, the huge power forward winger will be one of the guys the Blackhawks look to for production in the early going of this series.
3. Hold Nashville to Under 30 Shots on Goal
I wrote about Chicago’s surprising struggle with shot suppression this year pretty recently, and that is without a doubt going to be something to watch as the Blackhawks make their playoff run. With the way Corey Crawford has been playing this season, as long as Chicago can limit his workload on a per game basis, they will be in great shape. To accomplish this feat, they’ll need to forecheck more aggressively than what they showed for most of the season. This will help extend their time of possession in Nashville’s zone which will in turn limit Nashville’s time of possession in Chicago’s zone.
It will also be important for the defensemen to maintain tight gaps near the blue line as Nashville’s skilled forwards (Ribeiro, Forsberg, Neal, Wilson, Smith, etc.) attempt to carry the puck in. The better job of disturbing Nashville’s zone entries that Chicago does, the less likely Nashville is to get a shot on goal off each time they bring the puck up.
So there you have it, those are my three keys for the Blackhawks to follow in Game 1 against Nashville tonight. Let me know in the comments what you think, and if you have any alternative keys to the game. If all goes well, I expect Chicago to emerge victorious in the Music City this evening. Enjoy the playoff hockey, everybody.