Make Playoffs – Check
Win First Franchise Playoff Road Game – Check
First Time Leading in a Playoff Series – Check
First Time Losing a Playoff Series Lead – Check
Win First Franchise Playoff Road Series – TBD
After one week, 4 games, 233 shots on goal, and 15 goals, the Chicago Blackhawks and Nashville Predators have determined exactly NOTHING. After splitting the first four games and each stealing a victory on the road, the series shifts to Chicago for a critical game five.
Unfortunately, game fives have not been kind to the Predators, having lost game five in each of the last four trips to the playoffs. For Nashville to have any chance of advancing to the second round, they must treat game five as though it is game seven. If they can reclaim the series lead and put a question of doubt into the minds of the Blackhawks, they will have the opportunity to close out the series at home on Monday. In Chicago’s case, a victory today will give them a 3-2 series advantage and two chances to close out the series. Most importantly, if the series goes to game seven, Chicago will have home ice. Nashville has more to lose in game five then Chicago has to win.
As we look at game #5, 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.
Jordin Tootoo – After taking a puck to the face in game four, received 45 stitches and a trip the plastic surgeon. Is expected to play, albeit probably with considerable pain.
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 – It’s now a best of three series and the battle of the two Finnish goalies has evened up. Niemi has thrown two shutouts and allowed only one less goal then Rinne. Rinne must put this team on his shoulders and shut down Chicago’s powerful offensive weapons.
Jason Arnott – At some point Arnott has to put a point on the board. For Nashville to win, Arnott must energize his line of Colin Wilson and Martin Erat. While clearly not as talented as Chicago’s first line, Arnott, Wilson, and Erat must find a way to play better. Arnott and Wilson have a combined zero points in the series. That’s says it all.
Shea Weber and Ryan Suter – With the return of Brian Campbell to Chicago’s lineup, Suter and Weber must up their game. Nashville no longer has the clear advantage on defense. Weber and Suter have to play the perfect game. Score, Defend, Hit! They have a combined one point in the series. That will not cut it for Nashville’s top defensive line.
Barry Trotz – In the last game, Trotz did not make adjustments quick enough to neutralize Chicago’s roster changes, and lineups. Chicago is bigger, faster, and more talented. Thus, Trotz must ensure that the players on the ice getting the most minutes are the ones who are playing desperation hockey. This is no time to play favorites or hope that veterans can step up. If the first line continues to show a lack of effort and fails to contribute, slash their minute and give them to the guys that are creating momentum.
Antti Niemi – Watch game film from games 2 and 4. Ignore games 1 and 3.
Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook – Win the battle of Olympic defenseman. Weber and Suter are equally talented and can dominate a game. Keith and Seabrook must lead Chicago’s attack from the blueline. If they are able to dominate the boards and keep Nashville’s forwards from controlling the puck, Chicago’s forwards will take care of the rest.
Kane, Sharp, Toews, and Hossa – Shoot the puck and score. It is that simple. If the big four are firing on all cylinders, this turns into a Chicago blowout. Chicago has too much firepower and can dominate the game if their forwards to attacking.
Three Keys to the Game:
1) Forget about what happened in game 4 and return to Smashville style of play. Skate hard and fast. Hit anything that moves. Converge on the puck. Shut down Chicago’s passing lanes. Control the neutral zone. Most importantly, establish momentum early in the game to take away Chicago’s crowd affect.
2) Dominate Special Teams. Stay out of the penalty box. Pray to the Hockey Gods that the power play comes to the life. Nashville is 0-17 in this series and must take advantage of opportunities when they are on the man advantage.
3) Own the crease on both offense and defense. Nashville cannot allow Chicago to own the crease in front of Rinne and allow their snipers to send a barrage of pucks towards the net. On the other hand, Nashville must crash the net on the opposite end. If Hornqvist can play, we know he will do that. However, if not, others must step up, interfere with Niemi’s sightlines, and grab any rebounds that fall in the crease.
1) Show Patience. Nashville will come out strong playing desperation hockey. If Chicago is able to stay with their game plan and prevent early mistakes, eventually the pucks will find the net. With the return of Brian Campbell, Chicago has neutralized the advantage Nashville had on defense. Chicago has a far superior offense; they just need to allow those skilled forwards to work their magic.
2) Feed off the crowd. Establish the momentum early and score first. Chicago proved in game four that they could slow down the game after gaining the lead. Force Nashville to take risks and pull their defense up, thus creating scoring chances through breakaways for Chicago.
3) Win the battle for puck possession. Dominate the faceoff circle. In game four, Chicago was able to shut down Nashville’s passing lanes, thus creating turnovers. Furthermore, Chicago was able to control the boards and consistently put pressure on Nashville in their own zone slowing down their advancement of the puck.
Date: Saturday 4/24
Location: United Center – Chicago
Time: 3:00 Eastern (2:00 Central)
Television: NBC(HD), TSN(HD), RDS(HD)
About the Author
Written by Mark Jasper