Because of the unusually long break between the final regular season game and the first playoff game, we’ve all had a long time to digest the “ins and outs” of the Blackhawks’ first round match-up. With that said, we’d like to present our keys to the series. Some of which you may have already seen elsewhere; some you may have not.
– Of course, goaltending can’t wet the bed. Hawks goalies cannot be charitable to a team that historically has had a difficult time scoring goals. All in all, Antti Niemi has looked superb down the stretch, and I’d be surprised to see anything different from him.
– In that vein, Jason Arnott has traditionally performed like a big time player in big time situations for the Preds. It would be nice to limit his offensive contributions, as he can be a catalyst for the club.
– Keep the Predators special teams mediocre. The Hawks have to keep the good times rolling on the power play and not allow Nashville to score more than 4 times throughout the series with a man advantage. Nashville doesn’t take a whole bunch of penalties and when they do, the Hawks have to make them pay. Also, a couple short-handed goals from the Hawks would be lovely.
– The Toews’ line must dominate. All signs point to Shea Weber and Ryan Suter being matched up against Bolland’s line. That means the Hawks top line must take advantage of Hamhuis and Franson. In addition, Bolland’s line can’t get stomped by whichever line is matched up against them. Otherwise, bad things gonna happen.
– It would be nice to get continued contribution from the Hawks’ fourth line. With a fourth line that includes Joel Ward and David Legwand, the Preds are nothing if not particularly deep, and you can count on them getting contributions from their bottom six at some point.
– There should probably be a Kris Versteeg sighting. As the Preds will attempt to get their match-ups against the Toews and Bolland lines, that should free up the John Madden line to get chances. Though it hasn’t worked out particularly well yet, the line that includes Versteeg and Ladd may be counted on to produce, and we’d all agree Versteeg is in the best position to do so.
– Keep home ice advantage. For those of you who become nauseous at the thought of Tim McGraw’s “I Like It, I love It,” you’ll know that Nashville – of all places – can be a difficult place to play. Make sure game six isn’t a must-win.