When the Winnipeg Jets scored a short handed goal in the final minute of Saturday’s game, the Nashville Predators booked their accommodations in Chicago, Illinois.
Going into Saturday, there was a 63% chance of playing Chicago, according to Sports Club Stats, but the Preds could also still play the Anaheim Ducks, Minnesota Wild or Edmonton Oilers if less-likely scenarios played out. For example, in order to play the Wild (the opponent most fans preferred), Nashville would’ve needed a win on Saturday and then a St. Louis Blues loss in regulation to both Carolina and Colorado in their final two games. During the third period of Nashville’s game, St. Louis forced overtime against the Hurricanes, thereby locking Nashville into one of the wild card positions.
Moments after that happened out in Raleigh, the Jets scored with 45 seconds left to deal the Predators the loss, eliminating the Pacific Division champion as their opponent and handing them Chicago, the West’s best team, instead.
Special teams look to be a key factor for Nashville and their hopes of advancing to the second round for the third consecutive season. They finished the regular season with a better power play (18.9%) and penalty kill (80.9%) than the Blackhawks (18.0% and 77.7%, respectively). If the Preds can stay out of the box while also capitalizing on the man advantage, the numbers say they should, in the end, come out on top.
There’s no need to pin all your hopes to special teams if you’re a Nashville fan, however. Chicago only scored two more goals than Nashville did all season and only allowed eight fewer. All things considered, those are essentially even. The team in gold also averaged more shots on goal (31.2) than their first round opponent (30.6). On the defensive side of things, Nashville wins that battle too, surrendering just 30.1 shots per game compared to Chicago’s 31.4. In addition, the Predators were the eighth best team (51.4%) in the entire League inside the face off dot. The Blackhawks? The second worst (47.5%).
All that being said, despite where each team finished in the standings, Nashville and Chicago are pretty evenly matched on paper.
The two teams have played each other twice in the post season. The first time coming in 2010 in a series that is best known for Martin Erat’s turnover in the closing moments of regulation in Game 5 when Nashville led 4-3 and was set to bring the series back to Bridgestone Arena with the home team up 3-2. Instead, he opted to make a pass back into the slot versus tying the puck up in the corner with roughly 20 seconds left. The puck eventually found the stick of Patrick Kane who potted the game tying goal — shorthanded, no less — forcing overtime. Marian Hossa then ended the tilt in the extra frame and, in turn, the Blackhawks ended the Predators’ season two nights later. Chicago went onto win the Stanley Cup.
They met again in 2015 in a series that saw the Preds as the better team for a large majority of it. Most experts agree that Chicago “won” four periods against Nashville that entire series but, unfortunately for Music City, two of those periods were overtime periods and then the third and final period of the series. Shea Weber was lost for the playoffs after he dislocated his knee cap in Game 2 and the Blackhawks had to turn to back-up goaltender Scott Darling in order to advance. They would eventually, once again, go onto win the Stanley Cup.
The Predators finish their 2016-17 season with a 41-29-12 record, good for eighth in the Western Conference. Chicago, with their overtime loss on Saturday, boast a 50-23-9 record, third best in the NHL and tops in the West.
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