For the first time in franchise history, the Nashville Predators have swept a series to move on to the second round of the NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs. What makes this even more amazing to think about is they swept the Chicago Blackhawks, who have won three Stanley Cups in the past ten years (one of which they had to beat the Predators in the first round in order to succeed to the next rounds).
After having finished 4th in the Central Division, the Predators were slotted to play the Chicago Blackhawks in Round 1 of the playoffs. After winning the Central Division, and previous post-season success, the Blackhawks were not going to be easily beaten. The Predators knew they had to come into these games and play a full 60 minutes of hockey, and play hard.
In the NHL, playoffs are set up in a best-of-7 pattern (so whichever team reaches 4 wins first will advance to the next round). Game 1 of the Predators vs. Blackhawks was played in the United Center in Chicago, IL. As the away team, the Predators were already at a disadvantage.
Game 1 could not have been played any better by the Predators. With a 1-0 shutout, the Predators were feeling great. What nobody expected was a Game 2 shutout by the Predators, as well, giving the team a 2-0 lead as they returned home to continue the series. In Game 3, the Blackhawks took a 2nd-period 2-0 lead and looked as though they had come to Nashville to finally tally a win. However, Filip Forsberg had another idea and tied the game 2-2 in the 3rd period and sent the rivals into overtime. As OT was nearly finished and neither team had scored, Kevin Fiala proved his maturity on the ice with the game-winning goal. With a 3-0 lead over the Blackhawks, the Nashville Predators felt unstoppable, though they knew not to underestimate Chicago’s strength and ability. The end of the 1st period left the game scoreless. Roman Josi put the Predators on the board nearly halfway through the 2nd period and the score remained 1-0 Nashville heading into the 3rd. After getting on the board themselves, the Blackhawks pulled their goalie in order to add one more attacker on the ice, but as these things go the Predators took advantage of an empty net and scored to take a 4-1 lead and finish out the series. Sweep sweep.
Although many voices throughout the hockey world seem to believe the series win was a result of many Blackhawks mistakes, I am here to tell you how the Predators dominated their way to a 4-0 series win.
Give credit where credit is due. The Nashville Predators defense played harder than they have all season. The Predators dominated possession of the puck in this series. But the first two games were shutouts and the last two games only allowed 3 goals combined. Pekka Rinne is a god among men as far as goaltending goes. Out of 126 shots against, Rinne only allowed 3 inside his net. That is a 97.6% save percentage. Not to mention after the first two games, Pekka Rinne had more points than the entire Blackhawks roster combined.
Rinne put up the first road playoff shutout in franchise history in Game 1. And he did it again in Game 2.
The Predators were clearly the better team in this series. In each of the 4 games, they played a full 60 minutes of hockey. They were relentless.
The Predators’ first line consists of Ryan Johansen, Filip Forsberg, and Viktor Arvidsson. In the first three games of the series, the famous “JoFA” line combined for five goals and eleven points. This top line has dominated in possession with a combined Corsi rating (an NHL advanced statistic to measure shot attempt differential while at even strength) of 62%, roughly.
But it wasn’t just the first line that contributed to the underdog’s success; it was a team effort. Ryan Ellis, Roman Josi, Kevin Fiala, Colton Sissons, and Harry Zolnierczyk all had individual goals in this series. Each and every player came out with the knowledge that they would have to play harder than ever in order to best these Blackhawks, and best them they did.
He shut down Blackhawks captain, Jonathan Toews. Toews growing frustration throughout the series was apparent every time the camera zoomed in on his face. But Subban never underestimated the players he was up against. He knew that in order to get the W he was going to have to shut down Toews, and he did until the very last period of the series. Toews hadn’t scored a playoff goal since 2015. Until this series. And only then did it happen in the final remaining minutes of Game 4.
P.K. Subban and Matthias Ekholm were matched up against Toews the whole series and completely shut him down. They exhibited good physicality and were never out of position. Toews scored the final goal in horrible time in Game 4, but due to this pair was completely irrelevant the rest of the series.
Toews claims he doesn’t “have any good explanation for what just happened.” Well, Jonathan, I can tell you exactly what just happened. You let P.K. Subban shut you down. He outplayed you. He was the better hockey player in this series. Accept defeat, pal, because you’re not moving on to Round 2.
Unmatched by Chicago, Nashville sped across the ice to beat the Blackhawks. Their speed was unmatched, and in the modern NHL speed kills. The Blackhawks have added some young players to their roster, but in an increasingly speedy NHL, these non-elite skaters were not getting the job done. The Blackhawks were stuck chasing the Predators across the ice for the majority of the games. And when they weren’t, the Predators were winning board battles, finishing checks, and rattling the opposing offense. The Predators’ speed also lead to sloppy work by the Blackhawks with hurried plays and missed shots.
What really irks me after this dominant series by the Predators, however, is that nobody is talking about the Predators’ success. Most storylines are being written and talked about in regards to the mistakes made by Chicago. Now, I’m not saying that Chicago didn’t make any mistakes, but this was a different Nashville team than was seen in the regular season. They came out fast and strong and played their hearts out in order to win this series. Give the Predators some credit for the amount of hard work and determination they put into this series, because it damn sure paid off in the end.
In the history of professional sports, the Chicago Blackhawks are the first #1 seed to be swept by a #8 seed in the first round of the playoffs. Ever. Let us all remember that they were beaten by the Nashville Predators in strength, speed, and power, not that they laid down their sticks and gave up.
Good luck next year, Blackhawks (except not really because #HeyYouSuck).