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Game #6: Nashville v. Chicago Playoff Preview

Posted By Mark Jasper On Apr 26 2010 @ 11:47 am In Nashville Predators | 1 Comment

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
Lose Playoff Series Lead – Check
Win First Franchise Playoff Road Series – TBD

The Nashville Predators find themselves in an all too familiar position going into game #6 tonight against the Chicago Blackhawks.  Twice in their four trips to the playoffs, the Predators lost game #5 resulting in elimination.  Unfortunately, the two times they made it past the fifth game, game #6 resulted in the same result.  Nashville has never made it to a game #7. 

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Nashville, coming off its most devastating loss in Franchise history, cannot afford to look ahead to game #7.  How devastating you ask?  Let’s review. 

  • Nashville led the game with under a minute to play before surrendering a game tying shorthanded goal with .13 seconds remaining.
  • The shorthanded goal resulted from a questionable play by Marion Hossa resulting in Dan Hamhuis going head first into the boards. Hossa received a 5 minute boarding major that carried over into overtime.
  • With 3:57 minutes of the power play in overtime, Nashville failed to score.
  • After serving his 5 minute boarding major, Hossa returned to the ice and scored the game winning goal.

Nashville was .13 seconds away from taking a 3-2 series lead and heading home with the chance to eliminate Chicago in game #6.  Instead, Nashville is down 3-2 and on the verge of elimination. Nashville must quickly forget about the emotions of game #5 and focus on their most important game in franchise history.  Win tonight and force the organizations first game #7.  Lose, and they add themselves to the list of previous teams who failed to get out of the first round of the playoffs. 

As we look at game #6, here are the key points for each team:

Injuries:
Nashville:
Patrick Hornqvist – The status of Patrick Hornqvist is being kept a secret by Coach Barry Trotz.  He has continued to skate in the morning practices, but failed to dress for a game.  Unless there is a serious risk of further injury, I expect Hornqvist to be able to go tonight.  Whether he dresses for the game is entirely up to Barry Trotz. 

Chicago:
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:

Nashville:
Pekka Rinne –  Rinne’s play throughout this series has in most cases been spectacular. With the exception of game #4, Rinne gave the Predators a chance to win every game.  Unfortunately, Nashville’s embarrassing power play and lack of scoring during key opportunities contributed to Nashville being down 3-2 in the series. Rinne must come through in game #6 or else he will be able to look forward to a long summer.   

Jason Arnott – One has to wonder if Arnott has done something to upset the Hockey Gods. With zero points through five games, Arnott has not contributed to Nashville’s offense.  As part of Nashville’s first line power play unit, he must be accountable for their abysmal 0-21 with the man advantage.  Furthermore, Arnott has failed to play with the intensity that one expects from the captain of the team.  Score a goal, make a big hit, start a fight.  Do something to show that this game means as much to you as it does to the rest of YOUR team!

David Legwand and Martin Erat – If it was not for Erat or Legwand, Nashville would have lost its first four games.  Both players, often the butt end of Nashville jokes, have raised their game in the playoffs.  For Legwand, it represents redemption for years of failing to live up to his second pick overall draft status and first pick in the franchise history. Erat, while leading the team in goals scored in the playoffs, must rebound from the horrible centering pass that led to Chicago’s game tying goal at the end of the 3rdperiod of game #4.  Both must continue to contribute offensively, especially if Jason Arnott and Colin Wilson fail to find their offensive game. 

Ryan Suter and Shea Weber – Weber and Suter have each played a solid series and held Chicago’s explosive offense in check at times.  However, they have contributed only one point between them in the series and that does not meet expectations.  For Nashville to force a game #7, both Suter and Weber have to raise their game on offense and defense.  They must shut down Chicago and keep them away from the crease.  More importantly, they must find a way to open up scoring opportunities.  Weber, part of the first line power play unit, must accept responsibility and improve his shot selection and accuracy.  If the power play is unable to convert for a sixth straight game, Weber, along with Arnott, will bear the brunt of the blame. 

Chicago:
Antti Niemi – Simple.  Do not give away the game. If you look at Niemi’s game-by-game performance, he has not been spectacular.  However, with two shutouts and a 3-2 series lead, it is hard not to give him credit for keeping Chicago in this series.  When Chicago’s offense and defense are playing to their potential, it is not necessary for him to steal a game. However, Niemi can expect Nashville to bring everything but the kitchen sink at him in game #6.  Will he rise to occasion?

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 are attacking. However, their status comes with targets painted on their backs.  Nashville has witnessed firsthand how even a small mistake can create scoring opportunities for Chicago.  Kane’s game tying goal in the third period and Hossa’s game winning goal are prime examples. 

Three Keys to the Game:

Nashville:
1) Dominate Special Teams.  Stay out of the penalty box. Pray to the Hockey Gods that the power play comes to life.  Nashville is 0-21 in this series and must take advantage of opportunities when they are on the man advantage.  If Nashville is unable to correct the embarrassing power play, they do not deserve to win. Nashville is historically a streaky team when it comes to the power play.  Score once and the flood games might open up. 

2) Dominate Puck Possession – Outside of the power play, Nashville biggest point of failure has been puck possession.  Blind passes, failing to clear the puck, turnovers, and lost face offs have all contributed to Nashville being down 3-2 in the series.  Nashville must find the open passing lanes and slow down the game when Chicago is pressing.  One key area Nashville can improve upon involves puck possession during line changes.  Too many times, Nashville dumps the puck into the Chicago zone while the forwards are changing lines. This often results in Chicago getting the puck and attacking while Nashville’s forwards are coming on to the ice.  Contrast that to Chicago where the defenseman circle back and allow their forwards to enter the game and mount an attack.  Furthermore, Nashville has shown a tendency to clear the puck resulting in an icing call far too often, thus returning the puck to their zone.  For Nashville to win the battle of puck possession, they must improve their faceoff percentage currently at 47.9%. 

3) Create Momentum – Peter Horachek, Assistant Head Coach for Nashville, suggested after game #4 that the crowd’s lack of energy contributed to Nashville lackluster play.  My thoughts on Horachek will follow in a future article.  Compared to Nashville’s first home game, the crowd was quite subdued during the fourth game. However, the lack of energy throughout the game was a result of the lack of effort and determination by the players on the ice.  While I doubt the players share the same thoughts of their coach, they must realize that their greatest advantage is the crowd.  If Nashville plays hard, smart, and desperate hockey, the crowd will rally behind them with full force.  Unfortunately, Nashville fans have endured four straight playoff disappointments and have little tolerance for excuses.  The players play, the coach’s coach, and the fans cheer.  If the Predators want crowd support, then come out and play Predator hockey.  Figure out the power play, shut down their offense by controlling the neutral zone, solid backcheck and forecheck, and imPEKKAable goaltending.

Chicago:
1)  Nashville is going to come out hard and fast playing desperate hockey.  Do not allow the crowd, or the play of Nashville to disrupt the Chicago game plan.  Chicago knows what to do to win this game and just needs to execute.  Utilize their skilled forwards, shut down defense, and consistent goaltending.  Control the boards and do not fall into Nashville’s trap by taking stupid penalties.  While Nashville may not have scored on the power play in this series, they are one goal away from opening up the floodgates.  Do not give them that opportunity.

2)  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. By scoring first, Chicago also takes the crowd out of the game.  After losing four straight playoff series in the first round, an early lead by Chicago might be enough to deflate all emotion in the arena. 

3)  Clear the puck, control the neutral zone, and shoot the puck.  The longer the puck is in Nashville’s end of the ice the better.  It sounds like a simple concept, but will require Chicago to match Nashville’s urgency level.  Chicago does not want this game to head back to Chicago for a game seven. 

Information:
Date: Saturday 4/26
Location: Bridgestone Arena – Nashville
Time: 9:00 Eastern (8:00 Central)
Television: VERSUS(HD), TSN(HD), FS-TN(HD)

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