The Chicago Blackhawks will begin their latest run at a Stanley Cup Championship on Thursday evening against the rival Nashville Predators at the United Center. The ‘Hawks are on a mission to capture their fourth Stanley Cup in the last eight seasons, and their second in the last three, having hoisted Lord Stanley’s Cup in the summer of 2015 after defeating the Tampa Bay Lightning in the Finals.
The Blackhawks are coming off of an uncharacteristic early exit from the Playoffs last season when they were ousted by the St. Louis Blues in the opening round of the 2015-2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs, and will look to make another deep run this season.
The Blackhawks are entering this season’s playoff run healthier and quite possibly deeper than they have in any of their nine consecutive playoff appearances under Head Coach Joel Quenneville. Artem Anisimov, who missed the last month of the regular season was back at practice on Tuesday, putting the Blackhawks near full-strength heading into Thursday’s opening round series.
The Blackhawks core of stars once again anchored a team of Stan Bowman wild cards this season, except this time around, some of those wild cards, turned out to be aces in the waiting. The club has seen solid contributions from rookies throughout the season, most notably from Ryan Hartman.
In his first full NHL season, Hartman played in 76 games for the ‘Hawks and tallied 31 points on 19 goals and 12 assists, while floating around the Joel Quenneville line blender for the majority of the season never seemed to phase Hartman. Nick Schmaltz also played a large role for the Blackhawks in his rookie season, recording 28 points on six goals and 22 assists in 61 games.
The Blackhawks ultra-talented mix of veterans and youngsters helped guide them to the top seed in the Central Division and the Western Conference this season, and it’s worth noting that the previous two times that the Blackhawks entered the Stanley Cup Playoffs with the number one seed in the Western Conference, they won it all.
Here’s how the Blackhawks and Predators match-up by the numbers this season;
The Blackhawks won four of the five regular season meetings with the Predators this season, dropping only one contest all the way back in October, outscoring Predators 20-13 in those five games.
The Blackhawks 109 points was the best in the Western Conference this season, while the Predators 94 points was the second lowest point total of all of this season’s playoff teams, but the per-game numbers are slightly in favor of the Predators, despite the ‘Hawks dominating the Predators in the head-to-head match-up this season.
The Blackhawks are loaded and healthy heading into Thursday’s opening round match-up with the Predators, and not only favored to win this series, they are the favorite’s to win it all once again. There’s simply no team in the NHL right now with more talent coupled with the amount of Championship caliber experience than on this Chicago Blackhawks squad, and they know it.
“That energy, that ambition and motivation is back,” Chicago captain Jonathan Toews said. “We have that feeling again, that every single moment and every single game matters. It’s a lot of fun to play at this time of the year. It’s why we work all year to get to this point, and as we have said in the past, the real season begins. Obviously, we want to see what we are made of, and I think we are all pretty confident what we are able to do.”
Nashville Goaltender Pekka Rinne will have to perform in an all-world fashion for the Predators to have a realistic chance to derail the Blackhawks in this series, and Rinne unfortunately for the Predators, has not been his former all-world self in recent seasons.
The Blackhawks will move on to the next round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs after defeating the Nashville Predators four games to two in the opening round, taking games one, two, four, and six from the Preds’.