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.
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.
|2009 - Pekka Rinne||58||3246||32||16||137||2.53||1541||1404||.911||7|
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.
|2009 - Antti Niemi||39||2190||26||7||82||2.25||936||854||.912||7|
Chicago Blackhawks Injuries
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.