Nashville Predators 3, Chicago Blackhawks 2: Let’s go dancing

The Wild Card is ours!

The Nashville Predators took on the Chicago Blackhawks again tonight in the second game of their back-to-back. What were the storylines, who stood out, and where does the team go from here? All that below.

What went right?

The first period was clinical work by the Predators. In terms of shot generation, special teams, and overall process, Nashville repeated their performance from last night through twenty minutes. Pekka Rinne looked great, the forecheck was retrieving pucks, and everything was swell. Viktor Arvidsson and Calle Järnkrok added goals to make it a 2-0 game, and Mattias Ekholm continued to prove that he belongs squarely in the Norris conversation.

After Nashville slowed down drastically in the third period, the Preds still managed to get the puck to the slot when it counted, producing this absolutely beautiful goal from Roman Josi. By the way, the beautiful assist on that play? Courtesy of Eeli Tolvanen. Put him in the Calder conversation.

What could have been better?

The second period was a startling regression to the mean. Nashville looked sluggish, struggled to break the puck out and couldn’t get anything to the slot like they had been for the past four periods of Preds/Blackhawks hockey. This matches with the turtling trend I observed in last night’s win, and while it remains to be seen whether this phenomena will stick around for the rest of the season, it’s not promising.

This sleepy, “play defensively” style ended up biting Nashville in the rear when Alex DeBrincat caught Pekka Rinne on his blocker side early in the third period before pantsing Dante Fabbro for the game-tying tally. Speaking of Fabbro, he had his worst game in a hot minute. The young Canadian defender was lost in front of the net and got embarrassed a few times by Chicago’s more skilled players.

Viktor Arvidsson showed some nice things tonight, but I still saw a few plays where his situational awareness was... questionable, to say the least, particularly when he iced the puck in a late-game situation.

Three Big Things

  1. The Nashville hockey Predators are now a playoff team. What a wild turn of events this recent stretch has been. There’s not much else to say; despite a flawed process, the wins are coming fast and furious, and I can’t complain too much. I still think the Predators ought to sell at the deadline regardless, but I’ll never complain directly about winning or making the playoffs.
  2. Eeli Tolvanen. My God. The kid looks more and more like a star in the making with every passing game. If he adds 5-10 lbs. in the offseason, watch the hell out. The off-puck processing, the shot and the hands are all there, so if he’s winning about 20 percent more of his puck battles that’ll make all the difference.
  3. I need to see this team sustain their high-octane play through the third period with the lead. This turtling schtick won’t fly against the better teams in the division, or even against the Dallas Stars. I’m sure John Hynes feels the same way.

Postgame Tunes

The Predators might make the playoffs, and that’s worth cutting a bit loose over. One might even say... Footloose.

Good night, good hockey, and as always, go Preds.