We'll get our full playoff preview loaded up this afternoon, but we'll start with our 1st round roundtable done with The Fifth Feather, Chris Block from The Third Man In, and Jeff Bartl from Blackhawk Up.
Is there anything that scares you about the Preds?
Feather: Let's see. They have horrific special teams, their list of top-6 forwards inspires no one, and their head coach looks like a villian from Super Mario Brothers. So yes. In all seriousness, Pekka Rinne is one thing to fear and so is Lord Erat. Playing in a 7-game series against the Blackhawks, Erat will probably end up leading the NHL in scoring after the first round. Let's hope none of his teammates follow his lead.
Block: Not many teams outwork the Hawks, but a Barry Trotz-led team will try, and some nights, succeed. The core of this Predators group has been together for awhile now and nine of them were on the team that gave Detroit a brief scare as the 8th seed two playoffs ago.
Above all else, Nashville comes in seeing the Blackhawks as more of a rival than the other way around and thus owns the proverbial chip on the shoulder. I don’t think they ever believed they’d beat the Wings in ’08 or ‘04, and their two quick first round exits to San Jose were lesser groups. Nashville thinks they can beat the Hawks. That alone, coupled with the fact they come in with a red-hot goalie creates a dangerous scenario for Joel Quenneville and company. Hornqvist, Arnott, Suter and Weber will steer the attack and they should get enough scoring from the likes of Dumont, Erat, Sullivan and rookie Colin Wilson (who, in the not too distant future, will be a headliner in Music City) to keep them in every game. Joel Ward, Dustin Boyd, and of course Jordin Tootoo will be everywhere. If the Hawks get to Pekka Rinne (4 shutouts and a .940 save% the last month of the season), backup Dan Ellis was stellar in the series with Detroit in ‘08, and that counts for something. But the X-factors are Legwand up the middle and Hamhuis on the blue line. Those two will either finish the series a +5 or a Minus-9. They are that up and down. Barry Trotz needs this pair to bring their best defensive games if they have any hope of stymieing the vaunted Hawks’ offense enough to facilitate the upset.
Bartl: I'm deathly afraid they're going to put me to sleep. Seriously though, the Predators don't give anyone reason to begin shaking over what they bring to the table -- and I think that's what worries me. Nashville's power play ranked 24th in the league, and its penalty kill ranked 28th. Roughly 18,000 fans sitting in their seat at the UC for Game 1 won't be able to name two forwards, and I'll be shocked if half as many of those people know who the Preds have in goal. Yet somehow Nashville finished with 100 points and beat the 'Hawks twice this season. Basically, I'm scared that I'm not scared.
Which player should Hawks fans most watch out for on Nashville?
Feather: Obviously the aforementioned Erat and Rinne, but the most interesting matchup will be what Barry Trotz does with Shea Weber. In the past, Trotz has used Weber almost exclusively on Patrick Kane. With the Hawks now throwing out a hellacious line of Sharp-Toews-Hossa, Trotz will be forced to pick his poison. Or he can just play Weber for 45 minutes a game, that would also work.
Block: Steve Sullivan. Don’t discount how much this former Hawk means to this Preds’ squad and franchise. An emotional leader, Sullivan shared the team lead in scoring with Patric Hornqvist and will see a lot of power play time. A truly amazing story he’s written himself now; missing two full years of hockey, undergoing two back surgeries and to not miss a game this season. He’s jacked for this series and I look for him to get on the board early and often. He’s never been much of a playoff performer, but also hasn’t been as healthy or motivated as he is now.
Bartl: I instinctively thought Martin Erat because he plays like a Hall of Famer against the 'Hawks, but I'm going with Pekka Rinne. He's heading into the playoffs on a hot streak, which is dangerous in a seven-game series. The Blackhawks need to not only put a high number of shots on Rinne in the series, but make those shots quality opportunities and make him work for his saves.
On the Hawks side, we asked this at Second City Hockey, but who's your John Druce (unlikely playoff hero)
Feather: If the past three weeks are any indication than Tomas Kopecky may have a wing in Toronto dedicated to him by the time it's all said and done.
Block: Can a goalie portray the John Druce character? Because I do not believe we have seen the last of Cristobal Huet. Aside from Colin Fraser, Ben Eager or the aforementioned Kopecky, there really isn’t a guy on this team who truly embodies the Druce suit and outside of a whole scoring line getting blind-sided by the Tootoo-Train, they won’t see enough ice to make that kind of a difference.
For this round, I expect John Madden to get his act together, finally, and make an impact for the first time since he commandeered the festivities in the limousine on a sultry January Vancouver night. He’ll chip in a few goals and he and Toews will own the Preds at the face off dots. Over the long-haul though, I’m going to say Brent Seabrook quits weeping over what his old buddy Wiz did to him back in Anaheim and gets back to tossing opposing forwards around in the corners, jump-starting offensive rushes and scoring huge goals late for the Hawks. When this playoff is over, I suspect Seabrook will have 3-4 GWG’s and be getting most of the praise on the backline, not the over-priced Keith.
Bartl: Andrew Ladd has four points in his last five games and his solid but not flashy play often goes overlooked. I'm taking Ladd to be a key cog in the 'Hawks playoff run.
Prediction for Round 1:
Feather: It should probably only last 5 games but Nashville always finds ways to make things interesting when they qualify for the post-season. We'll say Hawks in 7 and pray for something quicker.
Block: Nashville will grab an early lead in the series and while the Hawks will say all the right things, the scare will get them back on track and I expect the Preds will quickly be packing for summer cottage. Blackhawks in six. Not a game less. Not one more.
Bartl: The Blackhawks win in six games, and I stay awake for the ENTIRE series.
Our answers are on their blogs, but you'll be hearing lots of what we have to say in the coming days.