After a year off, the Nashville Predators are back in the playoffs looking to get the proverbial monkey off their backs. After four straight playoff appearances, the Predators missed the playoffs last year. A team that few thought would make the playoffs this year, Coach Barry Trotz and General Manager David Poile again pieced together a combination of gritty, hard working players to surprise all the pundits.
While making the playoffs surprised many, finishing seventh in the Western Conference and reaching 100 points was an even bigger surprise. Unfortunately, their success translates into a first round matchup with the Chicago Blackhawks who finished second in the conference and third overall in the league with 112 points. After two losses to the San Jose Sharks and the Detroit Red Wings in their previous playoff appearances, Chicago might look like a welcomed challenge.
Hockey players have long memories. For Jordin Tootoo, Martin Erat, David Legwand, Steve Sullivan, and Dan Hamhuis, those memories reach back to Nashville’s first franchise playoff appearance in 2004. Each has experienced the disappointment of four playoff loses, while Ryan Suter and Shea Weber were on the last three. In order for Nashville to secure the organizations first playoff series victory, every player on the roster will have to step up their game. For the above seven, you can rest assured that their memories will add to their commitment.
Game #1 of the best of seven series starts tonight in Chicago in front of 22,000 plus Blackhawk fans who feels it is their team’s destiny to win the Stanley Cup. Chicago, a team mired in mediocrity for years, has rebuilt their roster into one of the best in the league. Led by talented younger players such as Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, and Duncan Keith, along with veterans Marian Hossa and Brian Campbell, Chicago has rejuvenated its fan base.
Denis Grebeshkov – Out since 3/9 with lower body injury – Is skating with the team – Not expected to be ready for game #1
Patrick Hornqvist – Out since 4/7 with upper body injury – Has resumed skating with the team and expected to play in game #1
Brian Campbell – Out since 3/14 with a broken clavicle and ribs – Is currently skating with team ahead of schedule – Might possibly return during the series – Not expected to be in game #1
Kim Johnsson –Out since 3/13 with possible concussion – Has not started skating with the team – Not expected to play in first round series
Players to Watch:
Patrick Hornqvist – Hornqvist is Nashville’s leading goal scorer and when at his best, is in front of the opposing team’s goalie frustrating defenseman trying to keep him out of the crease. Hornqvist, recovering from an upper body injury needs to be at his best for Nashville to remain competitive.
Jason Arnott – Nashville’s Captain has had an off year complicated by a concussion sustained after the Olympic break. Arnott, who leads the first line with Colin Wilson and Martin Erat, must step up his game and contribute both on offense and in the physical side of the game. Furthermore, his role on the power play must translate into points.
Shea Weber – Considered one of the best young defenseman in the game, Weber’s point totals for the year took a hit compared to last year. However, he still possesses one of the most lethal slap shots in the game. He must contribute offensively on the power play without injuring his own teammates in the process. Additionally, he must improve defensively against the likes of Toews, Kane, and Hossa.
Jordin Tootoo – Considered one of the great pests in the game, Tootoo is at his best when he is agitating his opponent. Once considered a borderline dirty player, Tootoo still plays with fearless abandon, but in a more controlled manner. He must focus on drawing penalties from Chicago without himself ending up in the penalty box. In addition, he has added a scoring touch to his resume and will need to lead the energy line when called upon.
Antti Niemi – Has emerged as Chicago’s #1 goalie and will be making his playoff debut. While extremely talented, other talented players on the team overshadow his contributions to Chicago. He does not have to carry the team, but does have to prevent rookie mistakes. His performance in the series will be judged against fellow Finish goalie Pekka Rinne who will start for Nashville.
Marian Hossa – Following a trade from Atlanta to Pittsburgh in 2008, Hossa contributed to the Penguins drive to the Stanley Cup Finals where they eventually lost to Detroit. The following year, Hossa left Pittsburgh to play for Detroit where he felt had a better shot of winning the Cup. Unfortunately, Pittsburgh beat Detroit in 2009 to win the Stanley Cup. With 2 years of being on the losing end of the Playoff Finals, Hossa has plenty to prove.
Duncan Keith – Consider one of the elite defenseman in the league, and a Norris Trophy candidate, Keith anchors a very talented defensive corps. With the status of Brian Campbell uncertain, Keith must continue to play at the level he has all year and contribute on both offense and defense.
Patrick Kane – Chicago’s leading goal scorer and overall points leader, Kane represents the youth movement in Chicago. For Chicago to win, Kane must continue to energize the Blackhawks on offense, especially on the power play where he led the team with 29 points.
Location: United Center – Chicago
Time: 8:30 Eastern (7:30 Central)
Television: VS, TSN2
About the Author
Written by Mark Jasper