It is the last of the NHL’s first-round playoff series’ to begin.
That means there has been more time to break down the Western Conference quarterfinal between the Nashville Predators and Chicago Blackhawks, who will play Game 1 at 7:30 p.m. Friday in Chicago.
A look at some of what all that analysis reveals:
There’s a lot of statistical similarities. The leading goal scorer for both teams had 30 in the regular season – Patric Hornqvist for Nashville and Patrick Kane for Chicago – and a bunch of others kicked in to some degree.
The Blackhawks had 10 players with 10-25 goals. The Predators had nine.
The difference is that Chicago’s skill level is much higher with the likes of Jonathan Toews, Patrick Sharp and Marian Hossa, which means the Blackhawks always will have at least two lines with real scoring potential.
Arguably the biggest difference between this Predators’ teams and previous ones is the presence of a bona fide No. 1 defense pairing. Ryan Suter and Shea Weber proved themselves to the world as individuals with their respective play at the Olympics. They need to play their best as a pair in this series.
Chicago, conversely, has been without Brian Campbell since March 14 and without Kim Johnsson for the final 15 games of the regular season. That has caused a complete shuffling of their defense corps and has forced some players to assume a larger role and one to move from forward to the blue line.
Chicago’s Joel Quenneville has won playoff series’ with three different NHL teams and has gotten out of the first round five of the last six times he’s been there.
Trotz has an AHL championship to his credit but has been unable to get his NHL teams to perform at their best in the postseason. Most telling is the fact that the Predators are 0-4 all-time when facing elimination.
One thing the Predators always have counted on was their ability to kill penalties. That has not been the case this season. Not only did they finish outside the league’s top 10 in penalty killing for the first time in five seasons, they finished 28th in the league, their worst ranking ever.
Chicago’s power play only was the 16th-best in the NHL and converted just three times in six regular-season matchups with Nashville.
The Blackhawks, on the other hand, not only allowed the third-fewest power-play goals in the league, their penalty killers led the NHL with 13 shorthanded goals.
Both teams have something to lose.
If the Predators fail to make it out of the first round for the fifth straight time, there will be serious questions about management and the coaches and whether or not someone else might be needed to push this team beyond its current barrier.
The Blackhawks have been considered leading Cup contenders ever since they reached the conference finals a year ago. Anything less than a berth in the Stanley Cup finals will be considered a failure.
The expectations for Chicago extend well beyond that city’s limits unlike Nashville, from which little ever is expected. Thus there’s a much bigger burden for the Blackhawks.
2 – times Chicago was shut out. Only Washington (once) was blanked less often.
8 – times Nashville was shut out. Only Detroit (nine times) was blanked more often.
8.7 – penalty minutes per game for Nashville, which led the league. It’s the lowest average by an NHL in more than 30 years and the seventh lowest since 1967-68.
13 – shorthanded goals by the Blackhawks. No other team had more than nine.
19 – Nashville wins when it allowed the first goal of the game. Only San Jose won more (20).
28 – Predators’ wins in 35 games when they scored first (80 percent). Only Phoenix had a better percentage (85.7).
41 – wins by Chicago against Western Conference opponents, the most by any team in the conference.
52 – wins by Chicago in the regular season, the most of any NHL team.
70 – times the Blackhawks outshot their opponents. No other team did so more than 51 times (Detroit).
128 – goals in road games by Chicago, most by a Western Conference team. Nashville, with 115 was fourth.