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2015 NHL playoffs: Predators vs. Blackhawks first round series preview

Predators vs. Blackhawks 2015 playoff preview: Patrick Kane's return could prove decisive.
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Regular season series recaps

October 18:Blackhawks 2, Predators 1

October 23:Predators 3, Blackhawks 2

December 6:Blackhawks 3, Predators 1

December 29:Blackhawks 5, Predators 4

Notable injuries

Predators: Cody Franson (upper body, day-to-day), Eric Nystrom (lower body, indefinite)

Blackhawks:Patrick Kane (upper body, day-to-day) 

Keys to a Predators victory

Predators double down with gamble on center Mike Ribeiro

Nashville’s blue line is a weapon, but that weapon is a double-edged sword. All six players on what’s widely seen as the deepest and most talented defense corps in hockey could aptly be called offensive defensemen. That’s why the Predators’ system under coach Peter Laviolette emphasizes offensive zone pinching and defensemen joining the rush. Some of the gains of this new system, however, have been given back in the defensive zone, where Nashville’s efficiency in converting defensive zone starts to zone exits has failed to return to Ryan Suter-era levels. The Blackhawks, especially if they have Patrick Kane back, can possess the puck in the offensive zone. The Preds will need to avoid exhaustingly long shifts on defense and costly turnovers.

Keys to a Blackhawks victory

2015 NHL Playoffs Power Rankings

Chicago has talent up front that Nashville can’t match. The Predators will do their best to shelter their top line with

Paul Gaustad

taking certain key draws, but inevitably

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Mike Ribeiro

will see a lot of ice time against

Jonathan Toews

, who should be able to grinding down the less gritty Nasville center. If

Marian Hossa

 and Toews can dictate play, the Blackhawks’ superior scoring depth can outgun the Predators. Nashville netminder 

Pekka

Rinne

’s regular season ended poorly, and Chicago must challenge him early and often. 

The Pick

For all the talk of the Predators’ new style under Peter Laviolette—and Chicago’s impending salary-cap doom—these rivals will play to type, with Nashville not scoring enough to counter the Blackhawks’ skill players. Both teams limped into the playoffs, but only Chicago is getting a much-needed shot in the arm in the form of Patrick Kane’s reported return. The presumptive goaltending advantage for the Preds will be revealed as slight when Corey Crawford matches Pekka Rinne save-for-save. Blackhawks in seven.

• Complete playoff schedule and bracket

GAME 1

Blackhawks 4, Predators 3 (2OT)

Recap

Box score

Highlights

GAME 2

Predators 6, Blackhawks 2

Recap

Box score

Highlights

GAME 3

Blackhawks 4, Predators 2

Recap

Box score

Highlights

GAME 4

Blackhawks 3, Predators 2 (3OT)

Recap

Box score

Highlights

GAME 5

Predators 5, Blackhawks 2

Recap

Box score

Highlights

GAME 6

Blackhawks 4, Predators 3

Recap

Box score

Highlights