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Game #4: Predators v. Blackhawks Playoff Preview

Posted By Mark Jasper On Apr 22 2010 @ 4:47 pm In Nashville Predators | 3 Comments

I had to add a little video coverage of the level of excitement that existed in game three on Tuesday. Video is from Martin Erat’s penalty shot and the subsequent crowd explosion

Make Playoffs – Check
Win First Franchise Playoff Road Game – Check
First Time Leading in a Playoff Series – Check
Win First Franchise Playoff Road Series – TBD

In the National Hockey League, the playoffs are often more a game of chess then a test of skill.  While players play and coaches’ coach, the intricacies of what happens behind closed doors and before the game often influence what happens on the ice.  As the Nashville Predators and Chicago Blackhawks prepare for game 4 in the best of 7 series, the chess moves between Barry Trotz and Joel Quenneville are starting to play out.

Both teams have injured players, but the extent of the injury is unknown.  For Chicago, the decision whether to play or not play Brian Campbell is probably more a result of Chicago being down 2 – 1 in the series. If Chicago was leading the series, there is probably no chance they would risk aggravating an injury to Campbell.  However, when you are down 2-1 and run the risk of losing the fourth game to go down 3-1, the decision becomes paramount.  Nashville is in the same boat with Patrick Hornqvist.  Prior to the first game, Hornqvist did not skate in the morning practice, but did play that night.  Prior to the second game, Hornqvist practiced in the morning, but was out of the lineup that evening for the game.  Such are the games that coaches play to get the slightest advantage for their team. Whether or not Hornqvist or Campbell play this evening is anyone’s guess, but rest assured neither coach will tip their hand prior to the start of the game. 

One change that Chicago does appear ready to make is replacing Ben Eager and Colin Fraser with Adam Burish and Bryan Bickell.  These additions bring a level of toughness that Chicago has lacked so far in the series. As if tensions were not high enough, Burish has already added some fuel to the fire.  Rick Morrissey’s article in the Chicago Sun-Times [1]quotes Burish alluding to what it might take to change the momentum of the game including “running the goalie over”.  If Burish’s words and Morrissey’s predictions play out, this might be one of those games that is determined by who has the fewest men in the penalty box at the end of the game 

My take is the actual game will not live up the hype.  Chicago needs to win and cannot focus just on increasing the physical aspect of the game.  Bringing in Burish and Bickell will most likely create a fight or two and plenty of big hits.  However, if Chicago doesn’t figure out how to score, they will easily be down 3-1 by the end of the night. 

As we look at game #3, here are the key points for each team:

Denis Grebeshkov – Out since 3/9 with lower body injury – Is skating with the team – Is available for game #4. If inserted into the game, will replace Cody Franson whose lack of speed might be a liability against the speedy Blackhawks

Patrick Hornqvist – First he was injured, then he wasn’t. Then he had equipment issues, and then he was hurt again. One thing is for sure.  Hornqvist is hurt.  There never was an equipment issue.  This is not a case of a player playing through pain.  If Hornqvist was cleared to play, he would be out there regardless of the pain.  My prediction is that he does not play. If Nashville loses tonight, he will be back on the ice for game five. 

Brian Campbell – Out since 3/14 with a broken clavicle and ribs – Is currently skating with team ahead of schedule –  Possible for tonight’s game.

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:

Pekka Rinne – Hands down the MVP of this series so far.  Leading the league in goals against average and save percentage in the playoffs, Rinne is in the zone right now seeing everything that comes his way.  If he continues to play at this level, it might not matter what Chicago does with their lineup.  

Jason Arnott – After three games of suggesting Arnott as a key player, he has done exactly zero to contribute to this team’s success.  However, I will continue to list him as one of my keys for Nashville, especially if Hornqvist is not able to dress tonight.  As Nashville’s Captain, Arnott has to elevate his game somehow.  Whether it be putting points on the board, or just throwing his body around and playing with some urgency, he must contribute.  If Chicago does decide to bring the “Nasty Boys” mentality to the game, Arnott must be ready to drop the gloves to support his team. 

David Legwand – After a horrible regular season, Legwand contributed 5 points in the first three games.  While his offensive abilities have never lived up to the expectations of being drafted second overall, he is one of the best defensive forwards in the game when he skates hard.  Legwand is also the heart and soul of the team.  When he plays at his best, the rest of the team follows. 

Jordin Tootoo:  You didn’t think I was could make it through a series without making Tootoo the focal point of a game did you?   Jordin Tootoo has one purpose in life on the ice.  Pester, harass, frustrate, and instigate the opponent.  He is capable of dropping the gloves against anyone in the league, regardless of his small stature.  However, he is at his best when he gets under the skin of the opponent and causes them to take stupid penalties.  If Chicago’s game plan is to ratchet up toughness of the series and drop the gloves a few times, Tootoo will oblige.  However, Nashville would benefit more if Tootoo was doing the instigating and not the one retaliating. 

Antti Niemi – Niemi has to be wondering what he has to do to win a game.  In games 1 and 3, he played exceptional, but ended up losing both games.  You can’t blame the 8 goals scored by Nashville solely on Niemi.  One it would discredit the effort that Nashville has played with, and secondly, it would ignore the lack of support Niemi has received from his forwards and defenseman.  However, for a young goalie making his playoff debut, the question remains whether he is mentally strong enough to put this team on his shoulders.  At the start of this series, Niemi wasn’t expected to carry Chicago, but instead avoid costly mistakes that gave Nashville the advantage.  Of course, that was when everyone expected Chicago to put 3 or 4 goals on the board each game.  If Chicago is not able to correct their scoring woes, Niemi will have to carry the team.  Can he do it?

Marian Hossa – It is almost painful to continue to write about Marian Hossa.  He is Chicago’s version of Jason Arnott.  Much as I expect Arnott to break out of his slump eventually, Hossa is too good to stay in a rut for too long.  However, this isn’t the regular season where you can go through a ten game stretch of not scoring before you regain your confidence, Chicago only has four more chances to reclaim their supremacy.  In reality, if Chicago loses tonight, even an offensive explosion the final three games might not guarantee that they advance. 

Patrick Kane – Simple.  Continue scoring and creating scoring chances for others.  If Chicago is going to dig themselves out of the 2-1 series deficit, Kane must avoid being shut down by Nashville’s defensive game plan.   Nashville dominated game three by controlling the neutral zone.  If Chicago can’t advance the puck and maintain possession through the neutral zone in tonight’s game, there is a good chance they will be staring at a 3-1 series disadvantage. 

Three Keys to the Game:

Nashville played the perfect game in game three.  Thus, I am not altering my game plan for them outside of a few additional points that I highlighted.  For Chicago’s keys to the game, I left them alone.  They didn’t do any of them in game three and that’s why they lost. 

1) Stay out of the Penalty Box. Don’t give Chicago the added benefit of a power play to showcase their offense. Avoid being drawn into a fight or committing a stupid penalty in retaliation.  Establish the momentum early to frustrate Chicago and cause them to take the stupid penalties.

2) Remind Chicago whose house they are in. Hit them hard, often, and keep them out of the offensive zone. Control the boards and play with the urgency and grit that has defined them throughout the year. Feed off the crowd and keep them fired up.  If Nashville plays like they did on Tuesday, the crowd will respond which in turn will continue that effort on the ice and frustrate Chicago. 

3) Crash the net on both offense and defense.  Nothing more needs to be said!

1) Show Patience. Nashville will come out strong in front of their home crowd. If Chicago is able to stay with their game plan and prevent early mistakes, eventually the pucks will find the net.
2) Stay out of the penalty box. Not that Chicago should be worried about Nashville’s power play, but playing short handed eliminates the advantage Chicago has with overall skill.
3) Protect Niemi. This is Niemi’s first road playoff game. Nashville is going to crash the nets all night long. Chicago must control the boards and keep Nashville from crowding in front of the net.

Game Information:
Date: Thursday 4/22
Location: Bridgestone Arena – Nashville
Time: 8:30 Eastern (7:30 Central)
Television: VERSUS(HD), RIS, TSN(HD), FS-TN(HD)

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[1] Rick Morrissey’s article in the Chicago Sun-Times : http://www.suntimes.com/sports/morrissey/2187340,CST-SPT-morrissey22.article

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