Stanley Cup Playoffs Preview: Nashville Predators vs. Chicago Blackhawks


(Ed. Note: There are five Canadian teams in the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs, trying their hardest to recapture Lord Stanley’s Cup and return it to the Great White North after it’s been in the grimy, unworthy hands of American teams since 1994. Here is Puck Daddy’s Playoff Preview for the first round, complete with a celebration of their Canadian elements.)

The Nashville Predators were humming along for most of the year and looked like a good bet for the Presidents’ Trophy – or at the very least a Central Division crown.

Then came a six-game losing streak to end the year. And … the Chicago Blackhawks in the first round. To add injury recovery to insult, Patrick Kane will return for the Hawks for Game 1 after being out of the lineup since Feb. 24 with a broken clavicle.

Then again, Chicago (winners of the 2010 and 2013 Stanley Cup) lost four games in a row going into the playoffs, so it’s not like both teams are on fire. But Kane’s return is a game changer, and Chicago simply has the better match-ups against Nashville – especially at forward.


This goes to Chicago, strictly based on the fact they have one of the most Canadian of all Canadian forwards in hockey – Jonathan Toews. Two time gold medalist for Canada? Check. Two time Stanley Cup champion? Check. He’s also pretty good at hockey and led Chicago with 66 points in 81 games played. While Chicago’s other top forward – Patrick Kane – is from #America, he’s from Buffalo which is really close to the Canadian border. He was leading the NHL in scoring with 64 points in 61 games when he exited the lineup in February. Plus, if you’re the Preds, how do you stop Patrick Sharp (Canadian) without being iced by his handsome, steely stare. In all sincerity, just look at how these groups stack up, and there’s no question Chicago is better. Between Toews, Sharp, Marian Hossa (Slovakian) – one of three Hawks with over 60 points – Brandon Saad of the 23 goals (sadly American) and Andrew Shaw (Canadian), this group is tough to beat. And, of course, ‘throw-in’ Antoine Vermette, a Canadian who was acquired in case Kane would be out later than the playoffs. Vermette only has three points with Chicago, but as a depth player he’s a solid choice.

Nashville simply doesn’t have a game-changer up front outside of James Neal (Canadian) and Filip Forsberg (Swedish). Neal’s 23 goals were his worst fullish-season output since 2010-11 – though he was injured for parts of this year. Forsberg had just 11 points in his last 19 games, which put a damper on a wonderful rookie year that saw him pile up 63 points. Also, Nashville’s first line center is Mike Ribeiro (from Montreal who had 62 points this season). He will go against Toews on a nightly basis, and on the road, the Predators will not be able to hide him from that match up. He will get beat by Toews, and it won’t look pretty for the Preds. Ribeiro is 6 feet and 177 pounds. He’ll get beat by the 6-foot-2, 201-pound Manitoban.



The Blackhawks have two-time Norris Trophy winner Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook – who are both Canadian and former Olympians. Keith is the defending Norris Trophy winner, but has been better in the past than his 45 points this season. The Predators have Shea Weber who is from Sicamous, BC. Cody Franson is from Salmon Arm, BC, or some area that’s near Salmon Arm or Sicamous since different outlets report those two hometowns. Out-Canada that, Chicago! Also Weber is as big and brawny as they come and tied for the lead–with partner Roman Josi–among Nashville’s 'D' with 15 goals. There are few groups that rival the Predators’ blueline between Weber, Josi (who led Nashville defensemen with 55 points), Seth Jones (American) and Ryan Ellis (who was a Canadian treasure in junior – mainly because he stayed there forever and set what felt like a million records for the Windsor Spitfires). Both Ellis (plus-176 shot attempts) and Swede Mattias Ekholm (plus-282) are fancy stat aces on lower pairs for Nashville. Beyond Keith and Seabrook Chicago’s depth lacks. Nashville has strong duos down to its third pair.


Andrew Shaw spinning flying punch.

Shea Weber going after Matt Cooke after Cooke crosschecked him to the face.


Corey Crawford is Canadian, which means we should give him the edge over Finland’s Pekka Rinne, right? Eh, not so fast. Crawford’s numbers were good, a 2.27 goals against average and a .924 save percentage. But Crawford, and his glove, are always the question mark for the Hawks. Rinne is always the answer for the Preds. Rinne finished the year with a 2.18 goals against average and .923 save percentage. He was almost a unanimous Hart Trophy selection by us in our mid-season awards rankings, but fell off. His save percentage by month in the new year? January .910, February .919, March .914, April, .863.


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Predators: 11 (though technically 12 since Colin Wilson was raised in Winnipeg). Though being from Sicamous and Salmon Arm probably should count for at least double Canadian-age.

Blackhawks: 13 … but Toews is more than Canadian. He’s a Canadian mega-hero. If Canada had a Pro-Stars television show, he’d be featured. So based on the numbers, and the Toews factor, we give this edge to Chicago.


This will be a 2010 Stanley Cup Final rematch between Joel Quenneville with Chicago and Peter Laviolette with Nashville. Quenneville’s Hawks beat Laviolette’s Flyers that series in six games. And it’s a similar set up this year to that season. The Predators will be the underdog, and will have to rely on Laviolette’s attacking system to confuse Chicago’s hyper-talented forwards. Both coaches are winners. Both are strong systems guys. And Laviolette turned the Predators into a better puck possession team. Their CF % 5-on-5 ranked seventh in the NHL at 52.7 percent according to Puckalytics. But Quenneville is from Canada, and Laviolette isn’t, so he wins the tie breaker. Also, the Hawks are a better puck possession team at 53.6 percent per the same metric.



For whatever reason, Chicago’s power play is mediocre at 17.6 percent (20th in the NHL). Nashville’s isn’t much better at 16.2 percent (25th in the league. Chicago has always been an underrated defensive group. Its PK percentage ranks 10th at 83.4 percent. Nashville’s is at 80.8 percent which ranks 18th in the NHL. You’d figure a PK starring Weber, Josi and Rinne would be better.


Weber when his beard is in Wolverine-mode. Toews for the Blackhawks, because he has a lake named after him in Manitoba.


For Nashville it’s Rinne. He’s the Obi-Wan Kenobi of the Preds. He is their only hope. He needs to have a hot series against Chicago, which will no doubt be buoyed by thereturn of Kane.

For the Hawks, it’ll be Kane. There’s no way he can be at 100 percent after being out since late February. But can he provide enough of an edge to lift Chicago?


The series will be close, but ultimately, Chicago is too strong down the middle with Toews. Ribeiro will get exposed on the road, unless Laviolette can get him away from tougher match ups. He’s not a No 1 center and Nashville made no moves to address this issue around the trading deadline. Laviolette has done a good job of this during the season, getting Ribeiro’s offensive zone starts at 68.1 percent according to Behind the Net. Getting him in those spots should limit the impact of his woeful 43.2 percent face off percentage.