After a grueling 82-game schedule we have finally arrived at the postseason where the real fun begins! There were many remarkable stories that headlined the NHL regular season but in a way a new season begins tonight as many more headlines await to be written. No matter where you finished our what path you took to get here, it is a clean slate for the 16 teams who earned their spots in the playoffs and if we have learned anything from watching postseason hockey throughout our lives it is the simple fact that as it stands right now, this is anyone’s ball game. We have seen the L.A. Kings finish 8th and march their way to another Stanley Cup while we have seen heartbreaking upsets, overtime thrillers, Cinderella stories, and heroes being born in the Stanley Cup Playoffs and it all begins tonight folks. Stay tuned throughout the playoffs as I will be covering one or two games a night until a new Stanley Cup champion is crowned.
Chicago Blackhawks @ Nashville Predators
My Pick – PREDATORS (-115)
Two teams that stumbled their way in to the postseason meet tonight at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, Tennessee as the Chicago Blackhawks take on the hometown Nashville Predators. Chicago lost their final four games of the regular season while the Predators posted a 0-4-2 mark to conclude what was a great season for the team out of Music City. Chicago received some good news yesterday as Patrick Kane is likely to suit up for game one of this series after having surgery to repair a broken clavicle, but I don’t believe the return of one of the best offensive players in the league can earn Chicago a game one victory tonight. Nashville boasts one of the league’s strongest defensive units as Shea Weber leads a group that also features Roman Josi (55 points, +15), Cody Franson, Seth Jones, Ryan Ellis and rookie Mattias Ekholm. Although these names maybe aren’t household names (yet) they sure get the job done on the ice. Nashville gave up just 2.46 goals per game this year which was 9th best in the NHL and this defensive unit is backed by arguably the best goalie in the entire league. Pekka Rinne tied for second in the NHL this year with 41 wins and worked his way to an impressive 2.18 goals against average and a .923 save percentage. It is no coincidence that Nashville was near the bottom of the league while Rinne dealt with his hip problem last year and are near the top of the league upon his healthy return. Rinne will be especially hard to conquer on home ice this postseason as the Predators were the Western Conference’s best home team this season with a 28-9-4 record at Bridgestone Arena and should benefit significantly from the home ice advantage in this series. With all of the offensive weapons the Blackhawks have they still slid all the way to 17th in the league with 2.68 goals per game, something that will definitely be hard to improve upon facing this stiff defensive unit not to mention the brilliance of Rinne. One final note on the Predators on home ice: they sold out a franchise record 30 games this year and twelve straight to end the regular season. This building will be absolutely rocking tonight and will provide a very difficult atmosphere for the visiting Blackhawks. This series is about as unpredictable as any but I really like the Predators tonight to kickstart their playoffs with a 1-0 series advantage.