The Chicago Blackhawks are unquestionably the team of the decade as they have won three Stanley Cups, including each of the past two odd-numbered year playoffs. That could bode well in 2017 as the Hawks start their quest for another Cup on Thursday when they face Nashville, which has never advanced past the conference semifinals in nine previous playoff trips. Chicago is a solid series favourite on Sports Interaction’s NHL odds.
Nashville Predators at Chicago Blackhawks, Game 1
Stanley Cup Playoffs Series lines: Chicago -278, Nashville +180
Game 1 odds: Blackhawks -185, Predators +160
Game 1 total: 5.5
Date: Thursday, April 13, 8 p.m. ET
Location: United Center, Chicago
This is the third straight playoff appearance for Nashville and third time facing Chicago in the postseason this decade; the Blackhawks eliminated the Predators in the first round in 2010 & ’15. The Preds (41-29-12) finished fourth in the Central Division with 94 points and are the second wild-card team. This is a great team at home with a 24-9-8 record but has the worst road record of any postseason team at 17-20-4.
Nashville made arguably the biggest trade of last offseason in swapping All-Star defensemen with the Canadiens, sending former captain Shea Weber to Montreal for P.K. Subban. One may say that the Habs won that deal (at least for now), although Subban had a solid season with 10 goals and 30 assists in 66 games. However, he was minus-8 on the year, tying a career-worst mark set as a rookie. The Predators rank 15th in both goals-against average (2.7 gpg) and on the penalty kill (80.9 percent). Finnish netminder Pekka Rinne was 31-19-9 with a 2.42 GAA and .918 save percentage.
Offensively, Nashville relies heavily on its top line of Ryan Johansen, Viktor Arvidsson and Filip Forsberg. It’s an excellent trio as Johansen (14 G, 47 A) and Arvidsson (31 G, 30 A) each finished with 61 points and Forsberg (31 G, 27 A) with 58. It’s pretty simple for Nashville: If that line has a good night, it usually wins. If not, the Predators don’t. They ranked 11th in scoring (2.9 gpg) and 16th on the power play (18.9 percent). Nashville was No. 1 in the NHL in shorthanded goals with 12; Arvidsson led the league with five.
Nashville beat Chicago to open the 2016-17 season and then was outscored 18-10 in losing the next four in the series. Johansen led the Predators with seven points, all assists. Subban played in three of them and had a goal and two assists. Rinne also played in three and was 1-2-0 with a 2.70 GAA and .895 save percentage.
Coach Peter Laviolette’s team is +1400 to win its first conference title.
The Hawks (50-23-9) finished with 109 points, the most in the Western Conference. Thus they will have home-ice advantage at least until the Stanley Cup Finals and only wouldn’t have it there vs. Washington or Pittsburgh. During this decade’s dynastic run, the point total is Chicago’s second-best. It finished with 112 in 2009-10 in winning the first Cup, 77 in the lockout-shortened Cup season of 2012-13, and 102 in winning Cup No. 3 in 2014-15. Chicago actually trailed Minnesota in the Central Division for much of the season, but the Wild had a terrible March and the Blackhawks capitalized.
Is there a better forward duo in the NHL than the Hawks’ Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews? Kane was unable to repeat as Art Ross Trophy winner this season and won’t win a second straight Hart Trophy but still finished tied for second in points with 89 (34 G, 55 A). That was 17 points shy of last season. Toews started slowly but came on in the second half and finished with 21 goals and 37 assists. Artemi Panarin showed he was no rookie fluke in 2015-16, winning the Calder Trophy, as the Russian had 31 goals and 43 assists this time around. Chicago ranked ninth in scoring (2.9 gpg) and 19th on the power play (18 percent). The Blackhawks were last in the NHL with one shorthanded goal.
The Hawks were the only team with six forwards who scored at least 20 goals this season. Rookie Ryan Hartman was one goal from making it seven. The Blackhawks had seven rookies combine for 105 points. They have to annually rely on young players because the Hawks have to jettison good players each offseason for salary-cap reasons. Toews and Kane each make $10.5 million US per season.
Defensively, Chicago was 11th in goals against (2.6 gpg) and just 24th on the penalty kill at 77.7 percent, which is the worst of any playoff team. No. 1 goalie Corey Crawford was 32-18-4 with a 2.55 GAA and .918 save percentage. Backup Scott Darling had better numbers (18-5-5, 2.38 GAA, .924), and in playoffs past Coach Joel Quenneville has proven he’s not afraid to go to Darling if Crawford struggles.
Chicago will welcome back second-line center Artem Anisimov for Game 1. He hadn’t played since mid-March with a leg injury. Anisimov had 22 goals and 23 assists in 64 games.
In the regular season vs. Nashville, Kane led the Hawks with nine points (3G, 6A). Crawford was in net for four games and was 3-1-0 with a 2.52 GAA and .921 save percentage. The Hawks are +175 favourites to win the West.
Predators vs. Blackhawks Predictions
Disregard the fact that Chicago ended the season on a four-game losing streak. With the top seed in the West locked up, the Hawks rested key guys down the stretch. It’s tough to see Nashville winning a game in Chicago in this series. Plus the Blackhawks’ 24 road wins were second in the NHL. They probably will have more fans in Nashville than the Predators will as that’s usually the case.
Chicago in five games to advance and face Minnesota.