The Nashville Predators and Chicago Blackhawks face off Tuesday and Thursday at Bridgestone Arena this week, presenting the Preds with an opportunity to take charge in their Western Conference Quarterfinal series (which, like every other series around the NHL, stands at 1-1 after two). The mood among certain portions of the fan base, however, is dark coming off the 2-0 loss last night in Chicago.
If you flip those two games around, however, and assume a 2-0 loss in Game One followed by a 4-2 triumph in Game Two, the attitude would be quite different. The bottom line is that this is now a best-of-five series in which the Predators have home-ice advantage, and there's good reason to believe they can put the Blackhawks in a hole before heading back to Chicago for Game 5 - if they follow a few simple directives...
Storm the Crease
Of course, getting more presence in front of the net is critical, as Colin Wilson told WKRN's Cory Curtis after last night's game:
Unfortunately, we won't really know whether Hornqvist is good to go until we see him on the ice for Game 3. All indications were that he'd be fine last night, but he was scratched from the lineup at the last minute. I highly doubt that's because he pulled a muscle lacing up his skates. In today's NHL, however, the teams don't have to give out specific injury information, so there's no reason for them to do so.
Joel Ward got some credit for working the Chicago crease, but the Preds need to get that sort of effort from every line in order to cash in the chances they're creating. Dustin Boyd and Nick Spaling did some good work deep in the Blackhawks zone in Game Two, and I wouldn't be surprised to see Boyd get a shot on one of the top lines in Game 3, especially if Hornqvist can't play.
Stay "On the Forecheck"
A blatant blog plug? You bet, but it's also a winning gameplan. The Blackhawk defensemen are ready and willing to cough up the puck under pressure, and Nashville needs to complement that initial forechecker with a trailer keeping an eye out for that cross-ice, D-to-D pass. On this front, Jordin Tootoo in particular needs to show some more jump. He has the speed and hitting ability to create havoc for the Chicago defense, but without the proper support, any effort is wasted and he ends up getting caught behind the play.
Plug in the Power Play
An oldie but a goodie. The power play has been ineffective so far, with no goals on seven chances in the first two games. Hopefully Denis Grebeshkov will add some dynamism to this unit very soon, as right now it seems the sole focus is setting up a one-timer from the point. The Blackhawks are familiar with this, having played Nashville six times this season, and frankly there's a real danger that a mishandled puck near the blueline can turn quickly into a shorthanded breakaway for the speedy Hawks.
Guys away from the puck need to start moving into various shooting lanes, instead of just shimmying side-to-side to try and get open for a shot. That requires coordination between wingers and D to make sure defensive responsibilities are covered, but it's not rocket science.
Stay out of the Penalty Box
The 3rd-period penalty parade was unusual for the Predators, and they need to get back to the disciplined game they've played all season long. It's not just a matter of keeping Chicago off the power play, but it's also about allowing guys like Jason Arnott, Martin Erat, Steve Sullivan et al to get more ice time in 5-on-5 play. When you have multiple penalties in the same period it screws up the rotation of the lines, and you end up with some of your best offensive players sitting on the bench for 10 minutes at a time.
Feed Off the Crowd
The energy at Bridgestone Arena could prove to be a critical element for the Preds. While it's natural for crowds to yell themselves out at the start of a game, it's important that folks be ready to bring it later on in the 2nd and 3rd when the outcome hangs in the balance.
Anyone who was there during the last playoff series against Detroit knows what a visible boost the Preds get in such moments, and it can provide the difference when the game is on the line. At the very least, it can help drown out communication for the Chicago defenders.
The biggest thing to remember is that on home ice, Barry Trotz will have the advantage of the last change, which allows him to match lines as he sees fit. That should open up greater opportunities for Erat-Arnott-Wilson, and put Cody Franson into the situations in which he can best succeed.
Despite all that star power in the Chicago lineup, Nashville has been able to get shots on net and create some scoring opportunities. Now they have to cash a few of them in, and get the Blackhawks back on their heels. Nobody plays with the lead like the Nashville Predators... they just need to go out and get one early in Game 3.