For the third time in eight years the Hawks will face the Nashville Predators in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. In each of the previous two encounters the Blackhawks were victorious in six games.
As I mentioned in a previous playoff matchup preview, this is a very familiar foe for the Hawks, and vice versa. I don’t think there will be too many surprises when the teams hit the ice and look across at eachother.
It’s obvious that the Preds view this as a “third time’s a charm” type of series. They’ve given the Hawks all they can handle in the previous two meetings, and knocked out the top seeded Ducks in the first round just one year ago. It’s also worth mentioning that the Blackhawks are not the Anaheim Ducks, and any attempt to draw a parallel is absurd.
Nashville has certainly made their feelings towards the Hawks quite clear in recent years. Their “Keep The Red Out” campaign to prevent Blackhawks fans from filling Bridgestone Arena has been a big topic of discussion. There is obviously a tremendous amount of disdain from the Preds side of the aisle. They would love nothing more than to finally bring down the big bad yankee invaders from Chicago.
From this side? The Nashville Predators are just another annoying team.
They always find a way to play the Hawks tough. And while this Hawks team is far and away better than them on paper, don’t ever expect a cake walk series against Nashville. I’ve seen pundits and blogs predict the Hawks to make relatively quick work of the Preds. While that may very well be the case, I’m not confident enough to sit here and say this will be that easy.
The Preds have a plethora of impact players that the Blackhawks are going to have to account for. We’ve seen PK Subban come up large in many previous playoff series in his career. This will be his first in a gold Preds uniform. Subban has the potential to be a huge problem if the Hawks can’t find a way to contain him, offensively and defensively. He’s the kind of player you always have to keep tabs on while he’s on the ice.
Nashville’s forward speed is also a big cause for concern. We saw many goals in the 2015 series where the Preds were able to skate around Hawk defenders and crash the puck hard to the net. They also did that very well a year ago against Anaheim and San Jose. That will be the biggest key for the Hawks: can the defense contain Nashville’s speed to the edge; and when they happen to get beat, can Crawford be super?
It’s also important to note that a case can be made that this series means way more to Nashville than it does to the Hawks. For the Blackhawks and its fans this is just another first round series. Business as usual. For the Preds and their fans, going up against Chicago is like their super bowl. It’s flattering, really, that the Hawks have in a sense become the Red Wings. But it’s also concerning from a motivational standpoint.
My point here is that the Hawks cannot afford to sleepwalk through this series. Nashville is going to push full speed, and their fans are going to be rabid. The Hawks need to go for the kill and get this thing over as quickly as possible.
I’m not saying there needs to be any additional panic than the usual worry that coincides with any playoff series. This team knows what it takes to get the job done during this point of the season. All I’m saying is that Nashville is the type of team that you can’t let hang around, especially for the third time.
This will be the first time the Hawks open a series at home since 2013. The Hawks have also had Game 1 of the first round go to OT the past five years in a row. I wouldn’t be shocked if they’re a little slow out of the gate in Game 1. Please don’t freak out if they are. The Hawks record in Game 1’s isn’t great, but we’ve all seen the evidence of performance from thereafter.
With that being said, I would be absolutely stunned if the Blackhawks didn’t win this series. This team has been on a roll, and it would take a calamity of a series (and literal perfection on the other side) to bring them down right now.
Buckle up, and don’t forget to breathe.
Hawks in 6