James O'Brien

I am a contributing editor/writer/troublemaker for NBC's Pro Hockey Talk blog.
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Toews, Kane, Blackhawks feel emptiness, shock after sweep to Predators

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Even those who picked the Nashville Predators to upset the Chicago Blackhawks didn’t anticipate a clean sweep and a 13-3 goal differential. Who anticipated the series opening with two shutouts and the Blackhawks getting so little from Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews?

The Blackhawks aren’t immune to the emptiness and disappointment that came with being absolutely dominated by the Predators.

Jonathan Toews described it as “falling flat on your face,” even if he also praised the “relentless” Predators. The Blackhawks captain said the only feeling that would be worse would be falling short of the playoffs while Patrick Kane admitted it would be a long summer. Especially when you see stats like these, which hit you more bluntly than any possession stats (which look great for many Predators) would do:

Yikes.

This was the first sweep in Predators’ franchise history and the first time the Kane – Toews – Joel Quenneville Blackhawks suffered such a fate. Things sounded truly dour, with Kane wondering if the Blackhawks were lulled into a false sense of security by close wins and Coach Q … well:

Sheesh.

The Predators humbled the Blackhawks in this series. There are few ways to gloss over how one-sided things were at times.

Give Chicago credit for acknowledging that, even if many of their comments would mix well with an emo soundtrack.

Predators think they can beat anyone right now. Can you blame them?

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The Nashville Predators didn’t just beat the Chicago Blackhawks. It wasn’t even that “close” of a sweep, with Chicago only scoring goals in two periods and a 13-3 goal disparity overall.

Despite it being the first time an eighth seed swept a top seed (according to Fox Sports Tennessee … what a stat, right?), the Predators seemed to have at least some dark horse potential.

There were some rumblings about their potential, with Andrew Berkshire making some salient points for a Sportsnet preview:

They were horrible in the shootout and at three-on-three overtime, neither of which exist in the playoffs, and they struggled with their net empty when trailing. When it came to actually playing hockey, they were one of the best teams in the West, and their even strength play down the stretch was extremely strong. The West is wide open, all they need is Pekka Rinne to be league average.

Interesting. Still, after this sweep, the Predators aren’t denying their confidence. They’re taking the tone of a favorite rather than a scrappy underdog, and can you truly blame them for such swagger?

Amusingly, Ryan Ellis used basically the same exact phrasing, saying “we feel like we could beat anybody now.”

“We surprised a lot of people, but not ourselves,” Mike Fisher said, capturing a lot of the spirit.

Now, don’t take this as too much bulletin board material. They’re not puffing out their chests that much. Peter Laviolette, for example, supplied the more comfortable cliches.

Still, the winner of the Minnesota Wild – St. Louis Blues series has to expect a dialed-in opponent in the Predators.

Blackhawks become prey as Predators make huge statement with sweep

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The Nashville Predators managed something they’ve never done before and something basically no one manages to do on Thursday night.

For the first time in franchise history, they managed a playoff sweep. And it’s not like they did it against the Brooklyn Brawler; the Predators knocked out the top seed in the Chicago Blackhawks, the first time the Jonathan ToewsPatrick Kane edition of that team has ever been knocked out in four straight.

MORE: Blackhawks feel empty after resounding defeat

And make no mistake about it. Shutting down those two superstars and the other dangerous Blackhawks scorers ranks as one of their many rare accomplishments. They locked the series down with a convincing 4-1 victory tonight.

Pekka Rinne unquestionably deserves a ton of the credit. He remarkably managed two straight shutouts to begin the series. He almost had a third, but Toews scored his first tally of the series to spoil that late in Game 4.

Even so, it’s resounding that the Blackhawks were only able to score in two different periods during the entire series. Nashville outscored Chicago 13-3 in a stunning series.

MORE: No doubt about it, the Predators are brimming with confidence

While Rinne rightfully grabs a ton of headlines, plenty of other Predators stood out.

  • Ryan Johansen sure looks like the first-line center that Nashville was hoping for when they made that pivotal trade involving Seth Jones.

  • The Predators really enjoyed an advantage they subtly exploited during the season: their deep, talented defense was great. P.K. Subban didn’t score a ton – at least by his standards – but apparently he titled the ice.
  • It’s fitting that Viktor Arvidsson scored the empty-netter to really seal things up. He sure seemed to make more of a difference than merely getting two goals. You could probably make a similar argument for Kevin Fiala, who caused havoc with his speed and scored that crucial Game 3 double-overtime-clincher.
  • And, hey, Peter Laviolette gets a little revenge for the Blackhawks beating his Flyers in a Stanley Cup Final many moons ago.

The Predators came into 2016-17 with a lot of hype, but considering their place as the final team in the West, they didn’t always live up to it. Some of that was bad luck, some was poor execution.

Now the Predators dropped the team of this generation, a squad that was able to optimize its strengths enough to win the Central Division and No. 1 spot in the West.

Sure … with another first-round exit, there’s the question that maybe the Blackhawks are running low on  gas (or at least might suffer from “feast or famine” runs).

Of course, the thrilled fans at Bridgestone Arena might counter that it’s merely all coming together for a team that’s much better than its season indicated.

Video: Duncan Keith sends Viktor Arvidsson’s helmet flying with huge hit

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For those who missed his breakout in 2016-17, Viktor Arvidsson has been a revelation for the Nashville Predators against the Chicago Blackhawks.

His speed and skill is causing Chicago some serious issues as Nashville aims to sweep the Blackhawks … but you could argue that the concussion spotters should have taken him off the ice during Game 4.

Duncan Keith landed one of the biggest hits of the postseason early in the third period, sending Arvidsson’s helmet flying with a devastating check. Cameras showed that Arvidsson remained on the Predators bench despite that enormous collision, but we’ll see if an injury comes as a result of the hit.

Colton Sissons may have also might be dealing with an issue for Nashville.

Update: Mere moments after this post was published, Arvidsson seemingly scored the 2-0 goal, but an odd bounce meant … Sissons got it.

More Ryan, Karlsson heroics as Senators take 3-1 series lead over Bruins

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The margin of error has been small, so virtually every big play and big call has been magnified in this Boston Bruins – Ottawa Senators series.

And it sure seems like a lot of the bounces are going the Senators’ way … but give them credit. They’re absolutely seizing the day when given the chance.

Bobby Ryan ranks as one of the biggest stories. After occasionally being in Guy Boucher’s doghouse in 2016-17, Ryan now has the game-winning goal in consecutive games. He followed up the OT-winner in Game 3 with Game 4’s only goal in a 1-0 win.

With that, the Senators now have a commanding 3-1 series lead after – narrowly – taking both games in Boston.

Of course, Ryan wasn’t the only star, and he probably wasn’t the biggest catalyst.

Erik Karlsson continues to be the motor for the Senators’ machine, so it’s no surprise that he grabbed an assist on that game-winner. The splendid Swede’s critics seem to be getting quieter and quieter with each great performance.

Craig Anderson was also on task in Game 4, stopping all 22 shots for a shutout. Granted, there are also those aforementioned bounces: this contest may have been very different if a Bruins would-be 1-0 goal wasn’t called offside.

The Senators won two games in overtime and this 1-0 game. Combine some luck with the Bruins’ injuries and you can understand if Boston fans feel slighted in seeing their team head to Ottawa down 3-1.

Then again, that’s the story of the playoffs at times. The difference between agony and ecstasy can be razor-thin, which could be really intense when you don’t have Ryan on your side.