Predators can win with goaltending, special teams

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The Nashville Predators finished ahead of the Chicago Blackhawks in the Central Division, but they aren't exactly getting much respect heading into their first-round series.

Many, including the oddmakers, favor the Blackhawks in the series. Here are five ways the Predators can prove those people wrong and defeat the Blackhawks:

1. With goalie Pekka Rinne.

When he's on his game, Rinne can knock off the Blackhawks or any other team. Nashville appeared to be headed toward the Presidents' Trophy earlier in the season because of Rinne, who held opponents to two goals or fewer 41 times this season. He led the league in quality start percentage, was third in goals-against average and tied for seventh in save percentage. He can be the difference in a game.

The problem is, he hasn't been lately. Rinne allowed at least three goals in each of his last five starts and had a .905 save percentage in 16 starts during March and April.

2. Take advantage of Chicago's weak links.

On defense, that will be the Blackhawks' third pairing. The Blackhawks' first two pairings -- Duncan Keith and Niklas Hjalmarsson, Johnny Oduya and Brent Seabrook -- are solid. The third duo is a few steps behind.

Trade deadline acquisition Kimmo Timonen will be paired with eitherMichal Rozsival or David Rundblad. Timonen hasn't been able to regain his form after sitting out most of the season due to blood clots, though, and in 16 games with him on the ice this season the Blackhawks have been outshot 186-154 in 5-on-5 play. Goal differential has been the problem with Rozsival out there. He is minus-6 goal differential since Feb. 1. Rundblad's goal differential is even during that span, but he hasn't evoked confidence from Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville and has often been a healthy scratch this season.

3. Win -- or at least stay even -- on special teams.

Nashville has had a rough season with is specialty units. The Predators ranked 25th with a 16.2 power-play percentage and 18th with an 80.8 penalty-kill percentage. They went 10-10-3 in the games when they allowed more power-play goals than they scored. The Predators have given up at least one power-play goal in four of the past five games. The Blackhawks' power play hasn't been much to speak of this season either. The Blackhawks were 17th in the regular season with a 17.6 power-play percentage, and they haven't scored a power-play goal in their past six games.

4. Make Patrick Kane's return a bumpy one.

Kane hasn't played since Feb. 24 due to a fractured clavicle, but he is set to return for Game 1. The Predators don't need go head-hunting, but they're certainly within their rights to make life uneasy on Kane. The contact he has felt since being cleared recently is nothing like he'll encounter during game action, especially at playoff intensity. It should work in Nashville's favor if they can get Kane thinking too much rather than just playing. He was averaging more than a point per game when he went down, and in 21 regular-season games without Kane, the Blackhawks were held to fewer than two goals nine times.

5. Play with confidence.

A return of confidence could go a long way for the Predators, who enter the postseason on a six-game losing streak. They haven't won at home since March 24, and they have won just twice in Nashville since March 1. Rinne has lost his last four starts. It hasn't been a fun ride lately. They believe they can still resemble the team that succeeded earlier in the season and make a run at the Stanley Cup, and that has to start somewhere. A win early in the series could get them rolling in the right direction again.

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