The first-seed Chicago Blackhawks have discovered their foe in round one of the 2017 Stanley Cup playoffs. For the third time since 2010, the Hawks will take on the Nashville Predators in their first step to Cup glory.
The Preds were battling the St. Louis Blues and Calgary Flames for seeding positions. The Blues won last night and the Predators lost, so the Blues clinched 3rd place in the division and the Flames clinched the first wild card, leaving the Preds (41-29-12) as the second wild card team.
As the first seed, the Blackhawks (50-23-9) have clinched home-ice throughout the western conference playoffs., first since 2013.
Going into this season, many people had the Predators as their favorite to be on top of the West. Trading Weber to the Habs for P.K. Suban with Fisher, Rinne, Arvidsson, Josi and others, the team looked like a force to recon with. They got off to slow start but towards the end of the season picked it up. Meanwhile the Blackhawks were not very high on the list of expectations by many. With a lot of young kids and aging d-men, finishing first in the conference was not really foreseen. Yet, the kids played great and blended with the vets well (got to give props to Coach Q organizing all this as well) and they got 50 wins and 109 points.
As for this coming series, the winner will take on either the Blues or Wild in round two. The Kane/Toews Blackhawks are 2-0 in playoff series vs. the Predators and this season were 4-1-0 against them. Eric Lear of Blackhawks.com reported that Coach Q said there is no doubt he will be ready for the playoffs which is great to hear. The Hawks have had to deal with many nagging injuries in 2016-2017, but if all are together as a unit in April and hopefully beyond that will be huge.
Overall the Blackhawks are favored to win this series. With the experienced talent of the Toews-Kane-Hossa-Seabrook-Keith-Hjalmarsson core with Panarin, Hartman, Panik, Anisimov, Oduya, Campbell, Schmaltz plus the goal tending of Crawford + Darling the team looks really good. Their biggest glaring weaknesses are an inconsistent PP unit (19th out of 30) and a very poor faceoff win percentage (47.5% 29th out of 30). This team though always seems to be a different animal in the playoffs and Anisimov being back will hopefully help the faceoffs.
With that being said, the Preds have a good team and anything can happen in the playoffs. Pekka Rinne is still a good goaltender and having Suban can do great things for them. They are solid at faceoffs (8th best) and their PP is just a few above the Hawks. They are in the middle of the league in goals against and just two goals behind the Blackhawks in overall scoring.
If the Blackhawks just play like they have throughout most of the season, they have a very good shot at Cup #4 this decade.