The Chicago Blackhawks had a rough November/December, and analysts were already hitting the panic button and writing them off. There was even talk of a potential rebuild, and it just seemed like they had some major issues that weren’t going to be fixed anytime soon.
But if there’s one thing this team has always known how to do, it’s to get hot at the right time, and that’s exactly what they did, somehow finishing the season as the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference.
Chicago put together winning streaks of four, five, five and seven games from the start of 2017 through mid-March, and were scoring at least four goals each night on the regular. The question for the Blackhawks lies in their goaltending, as they’ve rotated Corey Crawford and Scott Darling, but haven’t been able to find a winning formula. Crawford, in particular, has been very inconsistent — stellar some nights, and terrible on others.
Which brings us to their upcoming playoff matchup against the Nashville Predators, who have a different identity this year. Last season, it was a red-hot Pekka Rinne who carried the team on his back to Game 7 of the second round of the playoffs. Unfortunately for Nashville, they ran into a buzz saw in that series, and the San Jose Sharks ended up winning the Western Conference.
Rinne — as well as the Predators defense — has been beatable this season. He ranks 15th in goals against (2.42), while the Predators rank 16th in shots against, and 15th in penalty kill.
The Blackhawks have won the past four meetings between the two teams, scoring five goals in three of those games. Rinne will have to be at his best if the Predators are going to steal Game 1 at United Center and win this series.
When: Thursday, April 13, at 8:00 p.m. ET
Watch on TV: NBCSN
Watch live stream online: NBC Sports Live Extra
This series will likely come down to goaltending. The Blackhawks will just need either Crawford or Darling to be pretty good/serviceable to have a good chance at winning, and they can’t afford for Crawford to have one of his off-nights where he lets in four or five goals. And for the Predators, they’ll need Rinne to play like he did throughout last year’s playoffs. It’s going to take close to 40 saves per game to beat Chicago, but he can do it.