With the first round of the playoffs over there have been a few surprises, but none more shocking than seeing the Chicago Blackhawks, who were 1st in the Western Conference, eliminated by the Nashville Predators, who came into the playoffs in the 2nd wildcard slot for the west. I would like to say congratulations to the Nashville Predators team up front, they played a very good series of games and definitely deserve to be moving forward to the next round! The outcome of this match -up has made me re-evaluate my predictions for how the rest of the playoffs are going to go, since I had the Blackhawks picked to become the Western Conference Champions, and I doubt that I was alone in that thought.
First I want to look at what was good about the series between the Predators and the Blackhawks. For that I have to start with Pekka Rinne he played an amazing 4 games! Rinne who has proven himself to be a world class goalie throughout his career really re-enforced that well earned reputation during the surprisingly abbreviated contest with Chicago. For his career in the NHL he has played 508 games, of those he started in 497 and tallied 269 wins and 155 losses. His Career goals against average is 2.38 and save percentage is 0.917. All of these are very respectable stats for an elite level goal tender, but nothing compared to the numbers he managed to put up in this first series. In the playoffs so far Rinne ended the first round with a goals against average of 0.70 and a save percentage of 0.976! Rinne was not solely responsible for the Predators outstanding performance, the offense was strong and the defense was solid through out, the team as a whole played very well. Just as important as skill is the psychological componant of playing in the post season and the Predators aced that as well. Nashville did not let the fact that Chicago had clearly outplayed them by a large margin during the regular season intimidate them or get into their heads. They were the clear underdogs going in, but proved they had earned the right to be there and were not to be underestimated by shutting out the Blackhawks in both of the first 2 games. This was the first time in franchise history that the Predators eliminated an opponent in the playoffs in a 4 game sweep!
For the Blackhawks this is the second year in a row that they have been eliminated in the first round of the playoffs. Going into the playoffs the Blackhawks had won approximately 62% of all of their regular season games. They had a record of 50-23-9 for a total of 109 points by the close of the regular season. Their opponent the Predators had won exactly 50% of their games ending the regular season at 41-29-12 with a total of only 94 points. On paper Chicago should have won this series and easily. In fact my personal prediction was that they would take the series in 5 games. Nashville proved that other than having enough points to make it into the playoffs these stats don't really matter. They gave all of us a reality check when Rinne and his team prevented Chicago from winning a single game in the series and limited them to only 3 goals total in the 2017 playoffs.
Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman was quoted as saying that, "the offense was completely shut down by the Nashville Predators, scoring just 3 goals in the 4 game series." While the fact that they scored fewer goals than games played in the entire series is ugly enough it gets worse when you consider that the Predators goalie Pekka Rinne had an assist in each of the first two games of the series. This means that the Predators goalie scored almost as many points in the series as the Blackhawks as a team made goals. The other stat that is distinctly ugly, from the Blackhawks perspective at least, is that going into the playoffs they were placed first in the Western Conference and the Predators were the 2nd wild card slot in their conference. That means that this match up was between the best team in the conference, at least on paper, and the 8th place team in the conference. I missed seeing the first game of this series, but in watching games 2 through 4 I can say that the Blackhawks team that I watched during the regular season did not show up at all during the post season. Their offense was totally ineffective, and the defense did little better in stopping the Nashville offense. If I didn't know better I would swear that Chicago found a group of amazing look a likes for all of their players, who just happened to know how to skate decently and put them on the ice while the real team went of vacation! I don't know if it was simply a matter of over confidence on Chicago's part, or if they were just mentally getting ready to play whom ever won the St. Louis Minnisota series, or if they were just burned out from a long hard fought and won regular season.... but the Blakhawks that I genuinely had a lot of fun watching throughout the 2016-17 regular season was just no where to be found in the 4 games that they played in the playoffs.
ONWARD TO ROUND 2!
Now having said all of this I want to stress that Nashville played hard and well in all 4 games of this series and genuinely deserved to win and move forward! I don't know what the outcome would have been if Chicago had played up to their potential, and our expectations. It might have ended with the Predators moving on to round 2 anyway, or it might not, but it definitely would have been a more exciting series to watch and a more satisfying victory to whomever the series winner might have been. Congratulations to the Nashville Predators on a surprising, but well deserved victory in Round 1 and best of luck to them as they prepare to meet the St. Louis Blues for the start of Round 2 on Wednesday 4/26!