Predators will be tough matchup for Hawks

Predators defenseman Ryan Suter will be a challenge for the Blackhawks during their first-round playoff series. John Russell/Getty Images

It may not be a sexy matchup, but expect a tough, grind it out series when the Chicago Blackhawks face the Nashville Predators in the opening round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

"They play a really good team game," Marian Hossa said after the Hawks' 3-2 overtime loss to the Detroit Red Wings on Sunday. "I feel like they kind of wait for mistakes. They don’t rush anywhere and play well defensively. They have good shooters from the blue line. We have to make sure we cover those guys."

Defense seemed to be the theme when players were asked to recall the first thing that came to mind about the Predators.

"They have some of the best D [defense] in [Shea] Weber and [Ryan] Suter and [Daniel] Hamhuis," Patrick Sharp said. "They don’t give up much in their D zone. They’re tough to create chances against."

Weber and Suter are Olympic defensemen who bring the whole package. For a purely offensive player like Patrick Kane, they pose some problems but Kane might have some answers that differ with Hossa.

"The biggest thing with them is they are a pretty physical team, and they are not afraid to run out of position," Kane said. "Biggest thing for me is probably move the puck as quick as you can and take advantage."

Amazingly, the Predators made the playoffs as the No. 7 seed with a zero goal-differential. They scored 225 goals and gave up 225. For comparison, the No. 8-seeded Colorado Avalanche were plus-11 for the season. The Hawks were plus-63. The implication is the Predators win tight games and the stats prove it.

The Predators were second in the NHL with 28 one-goal game wins and had the second highest winning percentage in one-goal games overall. They are a patient, well-coached team.

"We’ve had some tough goes with them," John Madden said. "We've had some leads on them slip. We have our work cut out for us. They’re a hard working hockey club. And have some great young D [defensemen] over there."

The Hawks and Predators played their entire season series before New Year so there are bound to be differences in their play since then. Nashville had closed to within three points of the division lead right before Christmas, but the Hawks came out of the holiday and made a statement with back-to-back 4-1 and 5-4 victories to win the season series 4-2. Again, it was a long time ago.

"It’s been so long since we played them," Joel Quenneville said. "I don't think it will take long to recapture the intensity of the series."

Probably not. But ask any Hawk who would be truthful and other than the Red Wings, this was the team they would least want to see. It won’t be a fun series nor an easy one, but it had to start somewhere so why not against someone you know?

"A playoff opponent from the division," Sharp said. "It should be a good one."