As the #3 seed in the Central Division, the young, but playoff-experienced, Chicago Blackhawks look to rebound from a poor finish to the end of the season with a third run at the Stanley Cup in the past six years. The Hawks kick off their postseason tonight with a two-game trip to the Music City to take on the #2 seeded Nashville Predators at Bridgestone Arena. 

While the ‘Hawks entered the season as an early favorite to lift the Cup yet again, the Predators have rallied around their All-Star goalie, Pekka Rinne, and 20-year-old center Filip Forsberg to surprisingly dominate the Western Conference standings for a large part of the year. 

As of late, however, neither team looks close to how they were playing in the middle of the season. The ‘Hawks have failed to gain any points in their final four games of the regular season, and the Predators have struggled even more, losing six games in a row, including four on home ice. Both teams need to get back into their mid-season form come Wednesday if they want any chance at competing for the Cup.
1.     The Health of Patrick Kane – The overwhelming key to a deep playoff run for the Chicago Blackhawks is the health of four-time NHL All-Star Patrick Kane. Since the right-winger’s injury to his clavicle on February 24th, the Blackhawks have slipped from the top of the standings, and with it, have lost home ice throughout the playoffs. While it was nice to see guys like Teuvo Teravainen step up during this stretch, Kane and his offensive talent have been missed dearly. Luckily for Blackhawks fans, it has been reported that Kane was cleared by medical staff for full participation in Tuesday’s practice, and we should expect to see him ready to go for Game 1 on Wednesday. If Kane can play anywhere near his regular self in this series, the Blackhawks should have no problem beating a struggling Predators team and making a deep run into the playoffs.

2.     Net Presence – With both teams bringing top goalies into this contest, getting a lot of shots on goal and creating havoc around the net could be the difference in this contest. The ‘Hawks need to use the physicality of big man forward Bryan Bickell and the scrapiness of  Andrew Shaw to distract Rinne and give Chicago the upper hand. If Bickell and Shaw are able to shield Rinne’s vision, deflections and second chance opportunities will be the Hawks best chance to get the puck past the All-Star goaltender.

3.     Home Ice Advantage? – Something that is not getting nearly enough attention is the Predators’ failure to attract a large enough crowd to outnumber Chicago fans. In the regular season, Blackhawks fans showed up in mass to Bridgestone Arena, essentially negating what should be home-field advantage. To ensure a higher Predators fan base, the Nashville organization has gone so far as to only allow Nashville locals to buy tickets. Should Chicago fans make their presence known as they did in the regular season, the ‘Hawks will advantageously be able to feed off cheers both home and away.
           
Round 1 Prediction
I look for Blackhawks to steal Game 1 behind what is almost sure to be a large Chicago fan base and take the series at the United Center in Game 6.
           
Bold Prediction
Corey Crawford will not allow more than two goals in any game in this series.