The Predators knew going into their first-round series that they needed every player on board to beat a perennial powerhouse like the Blackhawks, especially in their barn.
But one player might determine how far Nashville's spring will last, and if Game 1 was any indication, it could be a long one.
"I could say a lot," Predators center Ryan Johansen said of Pekka Rinne, who stopped all 29 shots he faced in a 1-0 win over the Blackhawks and became the first goaltender in franchise history to record a shutout in a road playoff game. "His play speaks for itself. He was our best player tonight. We're gonna need him to keep playing like that and we'll be successful."
Rinne has been really solid in the regular season throughout his career, but his numbers have dipped in the Stanley Cup playoffs.
Entering Thursday, Rinne owned a career 2.38 goals against average and .917 save percentage in the regular season compared to a 2.51 goals against average and .912 save percentage in the postseason, including a .907 percentage in his previous 20 playoff games.
He was trending in the wrong direction. But he was a big reason the Predators set the tone and stole an early victory in Chicago to quickly gain home-ice advantage.
"Now the series is on," Rinne said. "We've got to remember it's just a Game 1, but we wanted to get off to a good start and start the series the right way. It feels great to be up 1-0, but now they call it a series, right?"
It's not a series until the road team wins, and the Predators didn't waste any time in making it one.
Viktor Arvidsson, who had 31 goals during the regular season, halted the Blackhawks' strong start with a first-period goal at the 7:52 mark, which turned out to be a winner in the low-scoring bout. Predators coach Peter Laviolette summed up the game perfectly afterwards.
"In the first period we were really good, in the second they were really good, and the third period was a competitive period," he said. "That's pretty much it I guess. I thought our start was excellent. We did a lot of good things. I thought we stopped skating and working, and those two things, if you do it against Chicago it's going to be an ugly period."
Rinne was the reason the second period didn't turn into an even uglier one, staving off a Blackhawks team that registered 23 of their 29 shots in the final two periods.
"They did a good job of creating some space and moving the puck around, but they were mostly around the perimeter, and if they did get a chance, Peks was there to make a great save," Johansen said. "We're gonna keep trying to get better here as we go along. We'll look at some stuff tomorrow and get ready for the next one.
"We have a great group of hockey players here and we just have to be confident. We will use this win moving forward and I know that we can be successful.”
It was a crucial Game 1, specifically for Nashville, for a number of reasons.
The first, teams that win the opening game of a best-of-seven playoff series have gone on to win 68.7 percent (447-204) of the time, according to Elias.
The second? The Predators have never won a playoff series when trailing 1-0, going 0-for-7 in franchise history. They've finished the job three of five times when taking a 1-0 series lead, and avoided being in an early hole against a Blackhawks team that has won 11 of 12 playoff series' under Joel Quenneville when winning Game 1.
But it's just one game, and the series is far from over. The Predators know they have three more to go, but they're taking it one game at a time.
"I'm expecting it's going to be a long series, and we've got to keep our foot on the gas pedal and focus on Game 2," Rinne said. "But obviously it's a good position to be in on the road, to be up 1-0 with the next one on Saturday. That's going to be a big one."
If Rinne can duplicate his Game 1 performance, the Predators will stand a good chance at taking a commanding series lead — and perhaps making some noise in the Western Conference.
"If you are going to make a deep playoff run, everyone is going to have to be great," Predators defenseman Ryan Ellis said. "But your goalie is going to have to be your best player because there are going to be times where he is going to have to be the difference maker and tonight he was phenomenal."