Blackhawks

Who has the edge in Blackhawks-Predators series?

Who has the edge in Blackhawks-Predators series?

Well the first two series were so fun, let’s do it again.

When the Blackhawks and Nashville Predators meet in their first-round series beginning on Thursday, there won’t be many surprises. You know what you get with each team.

There isn’t much more of an intro we can give you here, so let’s look at who has the edge in various categories.

FORWARDS

The Blackhawks will enter this postseason in much better shape among their forward lines. Their top three lines are pretty much set – they have things to figure out on the fourth – and production has been across the board. Six Blackhawks forwards have 20 or more goals this season. Ryan Hartman, who finished with 19 goals, was close to joining that group. The Predators do pretty well in this department, too. Viktor Arvidsson and Filip Forsberg have led the charge, each scoring 31 goals this season. James Neal, who came on toward the end of the 2015 series between these two, scored 23 this season. Both teams have their offensive weapons. EDGE: Even.

DEFENSE

The Predators went through their big change here in the offseason when they acquired P.K. Subban from Montreal for Shea Weber. Roman Josi and Ryan Ellis are their other steady guys back there. The Blackhawks gained some depth again with re-acquiring Johnny Oduya at the trade deadline. Niklas Hjalmarsson missed the last few games while he and his wife awaited the birth of their second son. He’ll be ready to go. Will Duncan Keith have the series he did against these guys in 2015? That possibility, combined with the Blackhawks’ experience at this time of year… EDGE: Blackhawks.

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POWER PLAY

Neither team is outstanding overall on the advantage. The Blackhawks are 19th in the league with an 18 percent success rate and the Predators are 16th overall at 18.9 percent. The Predators were damn good on the power play at home this season (sixth in the NHL). Still, this one appears to be a draw. EDGE: Even.

PENALTY KILL

The Blackhawks finished the regular season ranked 24th in this category. Although considering their horrific start to the season on the kill, that ranking comes with a bit of an asterisk. Since March 1 the Blackhawks have killed off 37 of 44 power plays, so it was more reliable at the end. And this has always been their strength in the playoffs. The Predators are 15th in the league overall on the kill but they’re outstanding on the road (ninth in the NHL at 83.3 percent). That’ll come in handy at the United Center. EDGE: Even.

GOALTENDING

Corey Crawford started the season as strong as ever. Even though he had more ups and downs following his appendectomy he still put together another great season. Pekka Rinne was as inconsistent as the rest of the Predators through most of this season but was good at the end, going 6-3-1 in his final 10 outings. Yes, we all remember what happened to Crawford in this series two seasons ago. He came back to finish it. In between Scott Darling was stellar, and the Blackhawks still have that nice 1-2 punch in net. EDGE: Blackhawks.

INTANGIBLES

You look through the stats between these two teams and there are a lot of similarities. But as the gents at 102.5 The Game in Nashville said, the Blackhawks always seem to find a way to get that needed goal, to make that critical play. That’s part of the intangibles that are so crucial during the postseason. You’ve got guys who have been here, done this before and it shows at this time of year. The timely goals, plays, ability to weather situations that don’t go your way; when it comes to the intangibles… EDGE: Blackhawks.

Why Blackhawks are eager for 'heck of an opportunity' ahead of NHL's restart

Why Blackhawks are eager for 'heck of an opportunity' ahead of NHL's restart

When the NHL paused its season on March 12, the Blackhawks had a 2.6 percent chance of making the playoffs, according to Hockey Reference. They were six points out of the final wildcard spot in the Western Conference and had four teams to jump, which would have been virtually impossible with only three weeks of hockey left.

But because of the financial ramifications of the COVID-19 pandemic, the league was forced to get creative about its Return to Play plan and announced a 24-team format in May. The Blackhawks, as we know, were the final team in the West to get in.

And while it may not feel like their postseason drought has ended, the Blackhawks won't apologize for it. They've been handed a gift and want to take advantage of this new life.

"It's a heck of an opportunity," Jonathan Toews said after Day 1 of training camp. "We were kind of going down that road where our playoff chances were dwindling. It would've been a long-shot otherwise, but we were able to sneak in under these rules and under this format, so it's an opportunity for all of us. Regardless of whether there's fans in the building or not, there's something to play for."

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You won't find a bigger competitor than Duncan Keith, who's a two-time Norris Trophy winner and wears his emotions on his sleeve. He wants to get back to playing consistent playoff hockey and is as motivated about the restart as anyone. Just check his Instagram page.

"The biggest thing is just the fact that we're getting a chance to compete and be in the playoffs," Keith said. "You go back to the regular season, we were several points out and it wasn't looking good. Now we're in this opportunity — it's a great opportunity for us to try to prove that we deserve to be in the playoffs. ... We know we've got our work cut out for us, but I think as a group, we're excited to have this opportunity and show that we belong and that we could make some noise as an underdog."

On one end of the spectrum, you have a group of multiple Stanley Cup winners hungry to play meaningful hockey again. On the other end, you have a group of young players that haven't had a taste of the postseason yet and are itching to find out, even though there won't be any fans in attendance.

Put the groups together and you have a hungry Blackhawks squad that's eager to show they can make a potential run.

"It's good experience for everyone because the veteran guys that have played a lot of playoff hockey have never been through something like this before and the young guys who have never played in the playoffs, there's no better opportunity to try and get your feet wet and try and show your teammates what you can do," Toews said. "So, every game, that thought of the Cup being on the line has to be in the back of your mind. You win one game, there's no telling how far you can go, so we'll really try and build that feeling and that mindset in the locker room over the next couple weeks before we start."

Podcast: Corey Crawford deemed "unfit to play" by the Blackhawks

Podcast: Corey Crawford deemed "unfit to play" by the Blackhawks

Blackhawks goalie Corey Crawford was not at practice for the Hawks' Day 1 of Phase 3 training camp as they prepare to play the Edmonton Oilers and was deemed "unfit to play" according to Blackhawks coach Jeremy Colliton and GM Stan Bowman. On this fresh Blackhawks Talk Podcast: Pat Boyle, Charlie Roumeliotis, and Scott King discuss what the NHL's new term "unfit to play" means and if Crawford be able to get ready before the matchup vs the Oilers. Later on, the crew gives their thoughts on what they saw from Hawks practice and what Brent Seabrook looked like on the ice after being out since December following three surgeries.

(1:30) - Jeremy Colliton and Stan Bowman on Corey Crawford being "unfit to play"

(6:38) - Who can replace Corey Crawford if he isn't available to play?

(12:00) - How did Brent Seabrook look on the ice after being out?

(17:00) - Jonathan Toews has a new appreciation for Chicago, and hockey

(22:00) - More news and tidbits from Hawks practice

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