Predators Game Day Preview: Nashville @ Chicago, Game 1

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[SB Nation] - [NHL] - [Second City Hockey] - [Tennessean]

For the Nashville Predators, tonight begins the chase for Lord Stanley's Cup. All the worrying stops now, and fans can just focus on the game at hand. The wait from Sunday to Friday has been nearly unbearable, but tonight will no doubt be worth it. The Nashville Predators are back in the tournament, and hey, we're not playing San Jose or Detroit.

Where to Watch The Game

104.5 "The Zone" is hosting a viewing party at Blackstone Brewery & Restaurant in Nashville, and Bleachers Sports Grill in Franklin is also offering special deals to fans who show up wearing their Predators gear to watch the game.

After the jump, full lineups, injuries, and a few thoughts. 

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Nashville

Obviously, not many are giving the Predators a chance in this series. With the victories already by every other 7-8 seeds (Montreal, Philadelphia, Colorado), it seems unlikely that the Blackhawks will come out flat and unprepared like the Sharks did. The United Center is one of the most intimidating venues in the sport, and the Predators absolutely must not get behind early. Keys to the game:

  • Score first. Seems simple, but they work best when protecting a lead. Preferably within the first ten minutes. 
  • Shoot early, often, and all the time on Antti Niemi. The Hawks keep shot counts low better than anyone else, and Niemi may be vulnerable to traffic and lots of rubber. I'm looking at you, defensemen. 
  • Don't take retaliatory penalties. Its one thing to take a penalty that saves a goal - but penalties that are taken as a result of a scrum or other nonsense the Predators won't be able to overcome. Shea Weber and Jordin Tootoo particularly need to turn the other cheek after a hard slash or cross check. 
  • Establish an effective forecheck. Chicago's top two defensemen in terms of moving the puck are out, and against a heavy forecheck slower defenders like Brent Sopel and Brent Seabrook are likely to have trouble getting the puck out of the zone resulting in a good scoring chance. 

In Net

Pekka Rinne

#35 / Goalie / Nashville Predators

6-5

206

Nov 03, 1982

Playoff experience: none

GP MIN W L EGA GA GAA SA SV SV% SO
2009 - Pekka Rinne 58 3246 32 16 137 2.53 1541 1404 .911 7

Injuries

Patric Hornqvist is ready to go, and Denis Grebeshkov could if necessary but it looks like he'll wait till Game 2. All hands are on deck for the first postseason time ever. 

Projected Lineup

Forwards
Wilson - Arnott (C) - Erat
Sullivan (A) - Goc - Hornqvist
Tootoo - Boyd - Dumont
Ward - Legwand - Smithson
O'Reilly/Spaling
Defense
Suter - Weber (A)
Hamhuis - Franson
Bouillon - Klein
Grebeshkov

Chicago

The Blackhawks are all the rage right now, with many a bandwagoner among the mainstream media and unaffiliated fans. The consensus is that they'll go a long way this postseason, and justifiably so. They've got star forwards, star defensemen, and role players that pick up the slack better than most. The armor isn't without chinks, however. Keys for Chicago:

  • Keep someone in front of Pekka Rinne. If Rinne's close to where he was during the regular season, he'll stop every puck he sees and some he doesn't. The St. Louis Blues showed us that he struggles with a big body in front of the net. 
  • Draw penalties. Nashville takes the fewest penalties in the NHL, but has a downright awful penalty kill. There's little doubt in my mind that Chicago can take advantage of it. 
  • Shadow Cody Franson and Shea Weber. We've seen teams fail to do this a couple of times this year, and it isn't pretty. A couple of weeks ago against Columbus, Franson wasn't picked up at the blueline and he buried one past a helpless Steve Mason. Weber needs no introducing on the matter; he finished second in the NHL in goals by a defenseman. If the Blackhawks don't make sure someone jumps in front of these two Antti Niemi (or the net, in Weber's case) will spend a lot of time covered in ice after the game. 

In Net

Antti Niemi

#31 / Goalie / Chicago Blackhawks

6-2

210

Aug 29, 1983

Playoff experience: none

GP MIN W L EGA GA GAA SA SV SV% SO
2009 - Antti Niemi 39 2190 26 7 82 2.25 936 854 .912 7

Projected Lineup

Forwards
Sharp (A) - Toews (C) - Hossa
Brouwer - Bolland - Kane
Ladd - Madden - Versteeg
Burish - Fraser - Eager
Defense
Byfuglien - Keith (A)
Seabrook - Hjalmarsson
Sopel - Hendry

Injuries

Chicago Blackhawks Injuries

Probable

Player Injury Type Injury Date
Troy Brouwer other-excused 04/12/2010

Out (IR / Out / Suspended / Physically unvailable)

Player Injury Type Injury Date
Kim Johnsson concussion 03/14/2010
Brian Campbell collarbone 03/15/2010

Fearless Prediction

Uh, I don't know. 

Really, though, this game to me is going to be the biggest barometer of how the series will go. It'll tell us Nashville's mindset, desire, and how well prepared they are to take on the Hawks. Its almost impossible to predict a game like this, but tonight I see Pekka Rinne shaking off any nerves and the Predators getting a power play goal after five days of dissecting Chicago's penalty kill. Nashville 3, Chicago 2. 

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