Before heading into Thursday night, the Nashville Predators had absolutely no success against the Chicago Blackhawks this season; and in past post-seasons. Last night this finally changed.
After being eliminated from two straight post season appearances against the Blackhawks and losing four of five meetings this year, the Predators managed to pull out the victory in Game One of the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs, defeating their Central Division rivals 1-0. So how were the Predators able to defeat Chicago?
Three Keys to the Nashville Predators Game One Victory
In the season series this year, the Predators were dispatched by the Hawks four of five times, a large part because of goaltending. Two of these four loses came with inexperienced goaltenders Marek Mazanec and Juuse Saros in goal. In their two games, both goaltenders recorded sub .900 save percentages. The other three regular season games were played by Predators starting goalie, Pekka Rinne who didn’t fair much better. In his three starts against Chicago, Pekka Rinne only recorded one victory. In the two losses, Rinne allowed six goals against and looked like a goalie completely under siege. He was not himself, and this hurt his club.
Fast forward to last night, where the Nashville Predators put all their goaltending troubles against the Blackhawks away after a standout performance from Rinne. After a light first period of work for Rinne, the Blackhawks went on to test the Finnish goaltender with 23 shots in the final two periods. Rinne, however was at the top of his game all night long. He had to be extremely sharp on a number of occasions as well. This included a great reactionary pad save on Artem Anisimov with 8:18 remaining in the second frame. After this stop, Rinne went on to stay perfect. This helped the Predators close out the game, recording his second career post season shutout.
After the contest, Rinne received high praise from his teammates, including Roman Josi,“He was amazing. What a great game by him. I thought we played pretty solid in the first, played a good first period but after that they were all over us. Especially in the second, Peks made some unbelievable saves and he was great, not much more you can say.”
The Nashville Predators strong defence was also a major key to the teams opening game victory. Although the Predators allowed the Blackhawks to record 29 shots, they managed to contain the Hawks high powered offence. They did so by forcing them to the outside. A majority of the Blackhawks chances were from outside the coveted “Home Plate” scoring area. This allowed Rinne to make some easy saves and ultimately limited the amount of dangerous scoring chances.
The Predators were also willing to sacrifice the body and this was integral to the victory. In sixty minutes of action, Nashville blocked 26 shots to the Chicago’s 12. This sacrifice is necessary in the post season and it clearly contributed to holding Chicago scoreless. On Thursday evening, Roman Josi led the team with 5 blocks while his D partner Ryan Ellis had 3. Moving forward, look for both players to continue to lead to the charge in this area while.
Furthermore, the Predators were able to limit the West leading Blackhawks chances by playing sound positional hockey. Peter Laviolette implemented a 1-4 system that clogged the neutral zone slowing done superstars the Patrick Kane and Artemi Panarin. This forced the Blackhawks to dump and chase which limited their puck possession numbers and ability to generate consistent offensive zone time. The Predators physicality also took time and space away from Chicago’s forwards.
The final key to why the predators were able to come out victorious in Game One was because of their special teams play. Over the course of their season series, the Predators allowed 14 power play opportunities to the Hawks including 6 power play goals, a conversion percentage 42%. In addition, the Predators gave up multiple power play goals in three of their four losses. Nashville didn’t allow any goals on the man advantage in their lone regular season victory over the Chicago Blackhawks.
On Thursday night the Predators limited the Hawks to just 2 power plays and only gave up 3 shots on the man advantage. It is imperative that the Predators remain disciplined and limit the Hawks time with the man advantage if they want to win this series.
Look for the Nashville Predators to continue to implement these keys tomorrow night in Game Two of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.