If you had told any Nashville Predators fan in February that the team—playing at times without Roman Josi, Filip Forsberg, Matt Duchene, Ryan Ellis, or Victor Arvidsson—would hit the ice in April at Bridgestone Arena with serious playoff implications on the line, you would be hard-pressed to find anyone who believed you. What would have seemed highly unlikely in February is reality tonight. A very different Predators team faces a determined Chicago Blackhawks team desperate for two critical points to tie the Predators for the fourth playoff spot in the Central Division.
The Predators are coming off a tough two game series against the division-leading Carolina Hurricanes. The Preds had all they could handle with the speed and offensive power of the Canes. Despite dropping both games, the Predators at times showed a resilience they’ve developed through adversity and youth. Hopefully the Predators can leave any emotional baggage from the losses to Carolina and come out confident and focused against Chicago.
The strongest weapon for the Predators right now is Juuse Saros. His .928 save percentage is near the top of the league and has been a spark for the rest of the team. It is likely he will appear in goal against the Blackhawks tonight, although Pekka Rinne could make an appearance in this three-game series as well.
The Predators saw the return of Matt Duchene on Saturday, but would really like to have a few more veterans back from injury—mainly Forsberg and Eeli Tolvanen. The Predators were 0/6 on power plays against Carolina without the special teams duo of Forsberg and Tolvanen. In their absence, the team needs to find a way to capitalize on any man advantage they get.
Another area the Predators need to address in this series is brought to you by my brilliant co-worker Bryan Bastin.
Now for your numbers!— Bryan Bastin (@BryanBastin) April 16, 2021
Starting and finishing strong is the theme today, and it's been one sore spot this season for the #Preds. Out of 127 goals against (not counting shootout), THIRTY goals against have come in the first and last two minutes of the period.
In their last game against the Detroit Red Wings, the Chicago Blackhawks scored half of their goals in either the first or last two minutes of a period. The Preds must play from puck drop to buzzer for the entire 60 minutes to win.
Chicago’s trajectory has been somewhat similar to Nashville’s this season. After a dismal January left the Blackhawks with a 3-7 record out of the gate, the team rebounded with a strong push in a very difficult division. Despite having beaten each of the three top teams in the Central Division at least once over the course of the season, Nashville remains a thorn in the Blackhawks’ side. The Hawks haven’t been able to skate away with a win over the Predators yet this season.
The Blackhawks are bringing noteable offensive talent to Bridgestone Arena. Their top forward line of Patrick Kane, Pius Suter, and Brandon Hagel have a combined 92 points so far this season. Both Alex DeBrincat and Dominik Kubalik have outscored all but Filip Forsberg in points as well.
Goaltending has been a key to Chicago clawing their way into playoff contention. Kevin Lankinen’s .914 save percentage and 2.79 GAA along with Malcolm Subban’s .911 save percentage confirm that the Predators will have to earn their goals in tonight’s match up. Lankinen and Subban split starts in last week’s two games against the Red Wings. It is likely Lankinen will start off in goal against the Predators tonight.
Three Things to Watch:
- This is a critical series for both teams, and tonight’s two points seriously matter. It is easy to overhype a game, but in this case the game is hype-worthy. The Predators currently have a two point lead over Chicago for the fourth playoff spot in the Central division.
- There is no love lost between these teams. It is going to get physical out there. With much on the line for both teams and a history of...well...not liking each other much, expect physicality and intensity.
- Mistakes will matter. Whether it is a poorly timed penalty, sloppy neutral zone play, or a few minutes of mental lapse, this game could be decided by seemingly small missteps. While the Predators have been able to beat the Blackhawks every time thus far, they cannot let their foot off the gas for this game.
Sometimes you just need to tease your hair, put on your leather pants, and play a classic sports anthem before puck drop. Tonight is that night.