Round One Odds: Nashville Predators (+115) vs. Chicago Blackhawks (-135)
The Chicago Blackhawks are among the favorites to win it all this season, but their route to the Stanley Cup starts on the road with a difficult series against the Nashville Predators. Game one goes today at 8:30 p.m. Eastern. (Scroll to the bottom for the full schedule.)
The Predators edged the Hawks by two points for second in the Central division, but the team closed the season as cold as possible going winless in six straight and picking up just two of a possible 12 points.
Nashville’s usually stout defense – which averaged 2.5 goals against for the season – fell by the wayside in the final two weeks; the team gave up at least three goals in seven straight games. Their middle-of-the-road offense (2.8 goals per game) couldn’t keep up.
Now the Predators have the daunting task of facing the 2010 and 2013 Cup champions in the first round. The good news for Nashville is that Chicago comes into the postseason almost as frigid as the Preds; the Hawks lost four straight to end the season, all in regulation time.
The bad news is that Chicago should have star winger and 2013 Conn Smythe winner Patrick Kane back in the lineup for game one.
“Patrick has been working extremely diligently with his rehabilitation and has recently returned to full-contact practice without any difficulty,” said team physician Michael Terry. “After discussions with Patrick and the team, and examining Patrick [on Monday], we collectively feel it is appropriate, with minimal risk, for him to return to full participation.”
In recent years, Chicago has been known for its powerful offense with the likes of Kane, Jonathan Toews, Marian Hossa, Patrick Sharp, and Duncan Keith racking up points at an impressive pace. However, this year, Chicago has been a defensive powerhouse. The team allowed just 2.3 GPG (second-best in the league) and scored 2.7 (17th).
The decline in offense is partly attributable to Kane’s injury. The diminutive winger had been among the NHL points leaders before breaking his collarbone and missing the final 20+ games of the regular season. In the end, Toews led the team with just 66 points. Though he still managed to outpace Nashville’s leading scorer, rookie Filip Forsberg (63 points).
In the odds, Chicago is -135 to advance to the next round, while Nashville is +115 to pull the upset.
It’s tempting to go with Nashville given that they have home-ice advantage and an ostensible edge in goaltending, with Pekka Rinne posting Vezina-caliber numbers for the majority of the season. However, Rinne has never had much success in the postseason, whereas the Hawks are backstopped by 2013-Cup winner Corey Crawford and have a roster laden with players wearing multiple rings. Chicago -135 looks like the stronger play.
Chicago vs. Nashville Schedule:
Wednesday, April 15, 8:30 p.m. Chicago at Nashville
Friday, April 17, 9:30 p.m. Chicago at Nashville
Sunday, April 19, 3 p.m. Nashville at Chicago
Tuesday, April 21, 9:30 p.m. Nashville at Chicago
*Thursday, April 23, TBD Chicago at Nashville
*Saturday, April 25, TBD Nashville at Chicago
*Monday, April 27, TBD Chicago at Nashville
(Photo credit: Sean Russell (flickr) [https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/legalcode].)