2017 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs First Round Prospectus: Nashville Predators vs. Chicago Blackhawks
“Can the Preds score?”
That will be the overarching theme of this series. Nashville certainly possesses enough grit and playoff experience. Chicago’s blue line isn’t exactly lock down (Nicklas Hjalmarsson is the closest thing to it). Brent Seabrook, while good, is overrated by many. Duncan Keith is overall good at everything, but he isn’t a lockdown defender. This series will be interesting. Along with Keith and Seabrook, Corey Crawford is good, but not elite. He has had some big game performances, however.
Nashville Predators (WC2, Central) vs. Chicago Blackhawks (Central Division Champion)
It is amazing how good of a job the Hawks’ front office and coach Joel Quenneville have done in evaluating talent both domestically and abroad and continue to plug and play on each one of their forward lines every year. This must be done because they are married to Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Seabrook and Keith with contracts that annually put them against the cap; necessitating this juggling of personnel. To their credit, they are consistently a favorite to make it to the Cup Finals, and are again this year in the minds of many (although not in this space). It will not be easy even if they get that far.
Nashville presents a gritty club. Ryan Johansen epitomizes this on the Preds’ top line, with high-flying Filip Forsberg and Viktor Arvidsson. This is a very good line. Forsberg is a game-breaker. Johansen will make Toews work hard. Arvidsson is full-speed 100% of the time. The Hawks will get no breathers there. The Mike Fisher line (Kevin Fiala, James Neal) must match what the Hawks second line will bring. To be clear, there really isn’t a 1-2 in Chicago, more like a 1a and 1b, and they fluctuate, because Quenneville is not averse to making line adjustments on the fly. He is one of the best in the league at this. It helps to have interchangeable talent like Kane and Toews to pull it off, though. Artemi Panarin owes his NHL career thus far to Kane. He doesn’t generate near as much without playing off Kane. Artem Anisimov’s status is critical, because beyond that, the Hawks have a ton of unproven depth players (excluding Marian Hossa).
What will P.K. Subban and Roman Josi do to the Hawks with their two pairings? Josi and Ryan Ellis form a tandem of rovers who can cover a ton of ice and create scoring opportunities from every angle. Subban and Mattias Ekholm do the same. The third pair of Matt Irwin and Anthony Bitetto cannot be caught out there against the Hawks top six. Pekka Rinne is in steep decline since the beginning of last season. This is an area of major concern for Nashville.
Both teams have question marks both from a skill and inexperience standpoint. The defence is basically a wash, all things considered. Crawford is the better goalie and comes up big in big games more frequently than Rinne, who has laid some of his biggest eggs in the Preds’ most important games over the past two seasons. We just don’t believe the Preds have enough, but they will make the Hawks work for it. Could even push it to Game 7, which the Hawks will win with ease.
Call: CHICAGO IN 7.