2017 will forever be remembered as the playoffs without “Chelsea Dagger.”
Oh wait, something else happened?
That’s right, the No. 8 seed Nashville Predators just swept the No. 1 seed Chicago Blackhawks, becoming the first professional sports franchise to ever accomplish such a feat. I’ll say that again. The Predators are the first 8-seed in professional sports to ever sweep a 1-seed. They also became just the second team in NHL history to sweep an opening-round series against a team with the best record in the conference.
“When you start something you don’t sit there and plan a sweep,” Predators coach Peter Laviolette said. “You don’t sit there and plan a shutout. You plan a game plan to how you want to play and I thought our guys played really well. I thought they executed really well. We went into the series and knowing we were playing a real good team; we said all along that we really respect our opponent. They’ve been a terrific team for a long time, they have real good players over there, they’re well coached, and we knew we were going to have a lot on our hands.”
This wasn’t just a sweep, it was a good ole’ fashioned butt kicking. I mean that quite literally; the Preds out-hit the Blackhawks 138-93.
The Preds outscored the Blackhawks 13-3. Pekka Rinne saved 123 of the 126 shots he faced, holding Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews and Artemi Panarin — and their combined 86 regular season goals — to just two goals in four games.
In fact, Rinne is arguably the hottest player in the playoffs. He is 4-0 with a .976 save-percentage, a 0.70 goals-against-average, two shutouts and two assists. He became just the fourth goalie since 1967-68 with four wins in a series with a goals-against-average of 0.70 or less, and the first since Tuuka Rask in 2013.
“It’s pretty good going 4-0 against Chicago,” Rinne said. “Obviously, that’s not me, but I’m feeling good. I felt confident throughout the series. I thought that games one and three especially were huge wins. Getting the first road game, the first game at home, then that overtime game, that was a big difference in this series. We were able to find a way to win a game every single night, so that speaks volumes of these guys.”
Nashville has been traditionally known as a defensive-minded team. They have never had an offense quite like this one. The Preds are a team nobody wants to see right now because of the four legitimate scoring lines they possess.
Nashville’s top line flat out harassed the Chicago defense. Forsberg, Johansen and Arvidsson racked up 16 points in four games, followed by the Zolnierczyk-Fisher-Watson line with 2 points, the Fiala-Jarnkrok-Neal line with 4 points and the Aberg-Sissons-Smith line with 6 points.
And I’m not even mentioning the three goals and 10 points that came from the defensemen.
Only a handful of national hockey media picked Nashville to win the series. Predator players were even having to answer questions of Nashville being a legitimate hockey town as recently as January. Those questions have been all but put to rest.
“We’re proud of ourselves; that’s no easy thing to do, to sweep the Blackhawks,” Preds center Colton Sissons said. “They have a championship-caliber talent over there and we did it in four so we couldn’t be happier.
“I think we’ll probably gain a little more respect around the league. Not a lot of people are picking us out of this series. Hopefully, we’ll just continue to stay humble and play confident hockey and keep moving along.”
“I don’t think we can go unnoticed anymore, that’s for sure,” Rinne added. “I don’t really care, you just try to have that mindset that everything that happens in this locker room, it just stays here. We are in this together and playing for each other. I think this is going to create some noise. The way we’ve played, I think we can be proud of the way we played. We played really good hockey and beat a really good team.”