It’s highly doubtful anyone could document their belief that the Nashville Predators would be looking to sweep the Chicago Black Hawks at Bridgestone Arena tonight. In most circles, if there were to be a 3-0 edge in games to this point, it would be Kane, Toews and Co. holding all the cards as the inconsistent, erratic Predators sought to stave off elimination. But, the shoe is on the other foot, and the Preds, who seemed to shoot themselves in the foot at multiple turns over the course of the season, find themselves just a scant few hours from having a few days off before beginning round two of this year’s Stanley Cup playoffs. St. Louis, who have a 3 games to 1 lead over the Minnesota Wild, are the team most likely next in line, but I’m going to go out on a limb and say that the series may end up going the distance, as Minnesota has underachieved in the first three games, and the Blues have overachieved, and it’s time for the pendulum to swing to the North.
If the Preds can close this thing out tonight, they may get as much as a week to ponder their next challenge. That would be good news for Craig Smith, and Colin Wilson, but it would be a little tougher on a guy like Pekka Rinne, who has thrived on the post-season to this point, and is clearly the team’s Most Valuable Player after three contests.
Time to heap some praise: from A (Aberg) to Z (Zolnierczyk) the team has been playing its’ best hockey of 2017. Having been critical of star players (Ryan Johansen) and marginal ones (Matt Irwin) over the course of the regular season, it needs to be documented that everyone seems to be firing on all cylinders and I couldn’t be more positive about the team as a whole if I tried. Johansen has been very good on both sides of the redline, and despite being one of only two forwards (the other was Jarnkrok) who did not register a shot-on-goal in game Three, has created enough of a presence as to neutralize Jonathan Toews and give Chicago fits both offensively and defensively. On the blueline, Irwin has been a third pairing revelation, making every decision he makes look like the right one, and correctly gauging when to back up and when to pinch in. I saw enough of Matt Irwin’s play as a San Jose Shark, to know the guy was an AHL depth guy at best, and while Stu Grimson, Darren McFarland, and company have been praising this guy all season long, he’s saved his best for the post season and has been one tenacious MF when on the ice with his partner Yannick Weber.
Other notes include the “coming out party” for Kevin Fiala, who is showing exceptional hand/eye coordination, scoring perhaps the most important goal for the Preds this season. Patience, magic, and skill are the watchwords for the entire Nashville team, and Fiala is the embodiment of that sentiment. Hopefully he has turned the Laviolette corner and will not find himself back in the chateau bow-wow moving forward. We also have to see how creative Poile can get with Vegas Knights GM George McPhee, as any one of Jarnkrok, Neal, Sissons, Watson or Fiala all look like they’d be huge additions to the soon-to-be formed expansion franchise. Aberg and Zolnierczyk… the Admirals Club… both are laying it all on the line every shift, and both have produced prodigious results. Harry got a HUGE goal in game two, and Pontus has been tenaciously dogging Black Hawk forwards with every second he’s on the ice.
Almost 5pm. Time to hop in my car and head over the bridge to the stone… Here’s to a clean game, a clean sweep and a chance to see our Nashville Predators make a little history. And, in other games, I’d sure love to see the Rangers grab a 3-2 series lead over the Canadiens. I’d be thrilled if Columbus could live to see one more day against the Penguins, and the upstart Oilers do to the Sharks what the Sharks did to them in Game Four. Hockey be with you, my friends.