It was 44 seconds away from not happening, but we can’t all have nice things. After the reality sets in on facing one of the league’s best and a fierce rival, it’s important to take a look at what the Predators are going up against in the Chicago Blackhawks.
Yes, they finished as the best team in the Western conference. And yes, they do have three Stanley Cups to their name in the recent past (trust me their fans will remind you in case you ever forget).
But they are beatable.
Nashville has faced and failed against Chicago in two previous playoffs, but there’s little doubt this current Predator team is the most talented of the three. In addition, there’s a strong case to be made that this version of the Blackhawks is weaker than their 2010 and 2015 squads.
Both of those series went to six games where Nashville had a real chance of winning if a few pucks bounced their way.
The current Blackhawks are a very strong team. No one can deny that. But comparing them to the 2015 version is interesting.
No more Brandon Saad, Patrick Sharp, Kris Versteeg, Andrew Shaw, or Teuvo Teravainen. Duncan Keith is now 33, and Marian Hossa is 38. Brent Seabrook is slowing down while Johnny Oduya and Brian Campbell are definitely nearing retirement.
You can’t discount the addition of Artemi Panarin, and that Patrick Kane guy is still tearing the league up. However, it’s safe to say the Blackhawks are less experienced with quite a few rookies in the lineup for the upcoming playoff series.
The Predators, on the other hand, have a brighter outlook this time around. Ryan Johansen is a definite upgrade at center over Mike Ribeiro, and Filip Forsberg has cemented himself as an elite player. Viktor Arvidsson didn’t record a point in six total appearances with the team in 2015. Mattias Ekholm and especially Ryan Ellis have improved while Roman Josi hasn’t lost a step.
It’s not totally fair to just look at the ages of players or new additions to the teams. The Predators finished the regular season 10 points less than their 2014-2015 squad, and the Blackhawks are coming off a seven point increase from two years ago. But regular seasons standings aren’t always a precursor for playoff success.
Looking at possession numbers from this season, the Predators finished at sixth in NHL for CF% according to Corsica hockey, and Chicago was outside the top ten. The goalie matchup would seem to favor the Blackhawks, but Pekka Rinne’s late surge has him tied with Corey Crawford for save percentage at .918.
If you went down the rosters 1-20, the Predators might be more individually talented than their first round opponent. Now that doesn’t always translate to wins and losses. Chicago has clearly shown they are the better team through 82 regular season games, but they’re wont be a talent discrepancy when these rivals face-off this week. That couldn’t be said in the previous encounters.
The Blackhawks should be the favorites to win the series. There’s no argument there. But Nashville without a doubt has the talent and ability to defeat their Central division foe for the first time in the postseason.