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Central Division Playoff Preview: Playoff foes will meet again in second round

Central Division Playoff Preview: Playoff foes will meet again in second round By Isetem13 (Own work)

NHL

Experience, as well as recent play key for advancing in Central Division playoff

As the Stanley Cup Playoffs begin on Wednesday, the excitement can be felt around the hockey world. Each series, just like every season, is set to be a roller coaster of emotions and unexpected events. The series in the Central Division are full of unpredictability.

Will the Chicago Blackhawks get out of the first round? Will the Minnesota Wild or St. Louis Blues find their groove first? Can the Nashville Predators have enough heart to make up for the lack of talent?

Without further ado, it’s time to jump right in to the Central Division series.

WC2 Nashville Predators vs C1 Chicago Blackhawks

The Blackhawks reigned supreme in the Central Division. Chicago outpaced the Wild for the top spot in the Western Conference, picking up 50 wins and 109 points. Winning the division isn’t always the measure of success for the Blackhawks, but two of its past three Stanley Cups have come in seasons in which they have captured the division title.

Patrick Kane did not repeat his 106 point performance from last season. His 89 points were still good enough for the team lead. Artemi Panarin added 74 points, while Jonathon Toews and Marian Hossa proved to be valuable secondary scorers. The top four defensemen are solidified for Chicago, but the revolving door at the bottom pairing may lead to heavy minutes to the team’s top defensemen.

The Predators felt as though they became a better team when trading for defenseman P.K. Subban in the offseason. On paper, the team did, but it did not translate to the ice.

Down offensive seasons by Filip Forsberg and James Neal have handcuffed the Predators offense. Forsberg and Viktor Arvidsson tied for the team lead in goals with 31, but the next closest is Neal with 23. Those numbers show a team that is struggling to find offense.

Pekka Rinne played well, but not spectacular (2.42 Goals Against Average & .914 save percentage), and Rinne is not historically known to heat up in the playoffs. If the Predators want a chance to advance, he must stand on his head.

PREDICTION: Nashville will have to become the best team in the world to even compete with the Blackhawks. With the season the Predators have had so far, it looks highly unlikely. The Blackhawks will use this series to solidify their final defensive paring and take some minutes off the top four d-men. Chicago in four.

 

C3 St. Louis Blues vs. C2 Minnesota Wild

The Wild were the best team in the West for most of the season. Unfortunately, they were not good enough to stay in the top spot, and lost the position to division rival Chicago. Early on, the right mix of goaltending and timely scoring powered the Wild.

The trend did not continue, however, and Minnesota faltered. A 4-10-2 March record slipped the Wild out of the division lead. A 4-1-0 April allowed the Wild to enter the playoffs on a bit of a heater, though those wins came over non-playoff teams.

The secondary scoring started to find its touch, as well. Martin Hanzal finished the season with 13 points in 20 games with Minnesota. Zach Parise, Jason Pomminville, and Nino Niederreiter have heated up as well, meaning Minnesota may use a scoring-by-committee approach to get the offense going.

St. Louis skittered out of the gate, falling out of contention early before the team fired Ken Hitchcock. Jake Allen solidified the crease, though it still is not what was expected at the beginning of the season.

Trading Kevin Shattenkirk definitely made the Blues a worse team, but it did not break them on the back end. The offensive production from the defensemen slowed down, but the group can out-muscle any forward and will impose their will in the series.

Offensively, the Blues are in the same boat as the Wild. St. Louis has a bevy of secondary scoring options to compliment Vladimir Tarasenko, among those being Alexander Steen and Jaden Schwarts. Each man pitched in 50+ points, and if David Perron and Paul Stastny heat up, the Blues can quickly turn into the most dangerous offensive team in the West.

PREDICTION: The series will be decided by who can get their goaltending together first. Both Allen and Devon Dubnyk can become the hottest goaltender in an instant. Dubnyk has struggled in his 16 career playoff games, posting numbers a record of 6-10 with a 2.84 GAA and .896 SV%.

St. Louis is the more experienced and more physical team, two traits that routinely win playoff series. Minnesota struggled with top teams down the stretch, and it will cost them in the first round. St. Louis in seven.