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Decadent NHL Playoff Preview: Chicago (2) vs. Nashville (7)

The 2010 Stanley Cup Playoffs are upon us, in all of their delicious glory. We'll be previewing each first-round series this week and providing you with a sugar rush through our poorly executed dessert porn theme. Check out all the previews to find out who takes the ... er, taco.

When Marian Hossa(notes) signed a 12-year deal with the Blackhawks over the summer, the joke was that it would be 12 more years that Chicago would be without a Stanley Cup. If the "Hossa Curse" isn't a curse, then the Blackhawks have their best shot in years in raising another banner inside United Center.

For Nashville, they want to rid themselves of the "first round curse" that's befuddled them four out of the past five seasons - something that's on the mind of the team:

"There are a lot of guys in this room that have been part of four one-and-outs, so I think there's a lot of motivation to get out of the first round,'' said defenseman Dan Hamhuis(notes), who's played in every Nashville postseason contest.

"This franchise has gotten to the point where getting to the playoffs isn't a goal anymore. That's just one step. Our goal is to go deep in the playoffs.''

There's only so much more patience that Predators fans can have if they fall in the first round again. Can Nashville knock off one of the Cup favorites earlier than expected?

Chicago Blackhawks (2) vs. Nashville Predators (7)

Friday, April 16 at Chicago, 8:30 p.m. TSN2, VERSUS (JIP)
Sunday, April 18 at Chicago, 8:30 p.m. TSN, VERSUS (JIP)
Tuesday, April 20 at Nashville, 9 p.m. TSN, VERSUS (JIP)
Thursday, April 22 at Nashville, 8:30 p.m. TSN2, VERSUS (JIP)
*Saturday, April 24 at Chicago, 3 p.m. NBC, TSN
*Monday, April 26 at Nashville, TBD TSN
*Wednesday, April 28 at Chicago, TBD TSN

* If Necessary/JIP: Joined in Progress

Forwards

Kane, Toews, Versteeg, Brouwer, Hossa, Sharp ... that's a lot of weapons that Pekka Rinne's(notes) going to have to worry about. Already having shown they can produce come playoff time, Patrick Kane(notes) (30 goals) and Jonathan Toews(notes) (25 goals) will be just one part of the offensive wave thrown Nashville's way.

Patric Hornqvist(notes) was a pleasant surprise for the Predators going from the final player picked in the 2005 NHL Draft to a 30-goal scorer to lead the team in goals, tied for first in points (51), plus-minus (+18), power play goals (10), and game winning goals (8).

Jason Arnott(notes) (46 points), Steve Sullivan(notes) (51 points) and Martin Erat(notes) (21 goals) are some of the Predators' vets that will be relied upon to counter Chicago's high-powered offense.

because depth scoring is what helps takes you places in the playoffs.

Defense

Minute-munchers Shea Weber(notes) and Ryan Suter(notes) help the offense from the blueline with their combined 20 goals and 80 points. Dan Hamhuis and rookie plus/minus leader Cody Franson(notes) (+15) will be relied upon to help slow down Chicago's skilled forwards.

Brian Campbell(notes) will be back for the Blackhawks at some point this series - possibly Game 2. In his absence, Quenneville moved Byfuglien back to the blueline and paired him with potential Norris Trophy winner Duncan Keith(notes). Niklas Hjalmarsson(notes) was placed with Brent Seabrook(notes).

takes the cake. Being able to moved Byfuglien to defense and continue being successful is one of Quenneville's options with Campbell out of the lineup. Once Campbell is healthy the defensive chokehold only gets tighter when Keith and Seabrook are back together.

Goaltending

All eyes will be on Niemi as he takes his 26-7-4 record into the playoffs. Having played well down the stretch has calmed some nerves around Chicago, but with Cristobal Huet(notes) not having done much to prove his worth this year, a faulty Niemi could signal an early round ouster.

Rinne is entering the playoffs as one of the League's top goaltenders. With four shutouts and a 12-4-1 record since the Olympics, he's proved himself to be another in the long line of blossoming goaltenders out of Nashville.

takes the cake because Rinne can stand on his head if need be to stall the Chicago offense.

Your slice of Blackhawks history:

Special Teams

Chicago's 17.7-percent rate was good enough for 16th in the NHL. The pressures of scoring at United Center must have gotten to them as the Blackhawks ranked 29th on the power play at home with 13.9-percent success. Their penalty kill was significantly better ranked fourth in the League at 85.3-percent. The Blackhawks also led the NHL in shorthanded goals with 13.

Ranked 24th at 16.4-percent on the power play and 28th on the penalty kill at 77.1-percent, Nashville better keep things 5-on-5 if they want to have any chance.

takes the cake. Big time.

Trick Candles (The Agitators)

Dustin Byfuglien(notes) (94) and Ben Eager(notes) (120) were the only Blackhawks with more than 67 PIMs.

Wade Belak(notes) led the Predators with 58 penalty minutes. Had Jordin Tootoo(notes) played more than 51 games, he surely would have been able to piss off enough opponents to only record 40 PIMs.

takes the cake. The Blackhawks enjoy spreading the PIMs out throughout the lineup. Nashville's more disciplined.

Noted Baker Giada De Laurentiis of Food Network Says ...

"Wait, this isn't the kitchen at all! Why are you just staring at me?"

Cupcakes (Goat Factor)

Now that he's healthy after suffering an upper-body injury, Predators leading scorer Patric Hornqvist can't disappear after his breakout season.

Whether Antti Niemi(notes) handles his own and plays the entire series or Cristobal Huet has to step in to save things, Chicago's crease will be its undoing if they get bounced early. The offense is there. The blueline is there. Can the rookie Niemi bloom under the playoff pressure?

takes the cake. The one concern about their lineup all season has no room for error anymore.

The Baker (Coaching)

The expectations are there for Joel Quenneville to build off last season's Western Conference Finals appearance. With the Blackhawks one of the handful of favorites to win the Stanley Cup, will the goaltending issues be resolved or derail Chicago's quest?

The only head coach Nashville has ever known, Barry Trotz has reached the point of his tenure with the Predators that just getting to the playoffs isn't good enough. After four straight opening round losses in the middle of the decade, Nashville and Trotz need to show progress.

takes the cake because other than Lindy Ruff, Trotz has continually done more with less year after year.

Home Icing (Home Ice Advantage)

It's like one big party inside United Center when the Blackhawks play. With a 29-8-4 record, having that extra game at home in the series might be a big factor.

Nashville's play inside Nashville Arena Gaylord Entertainment Center Sommet Center Bridgestone Arena was good this season with the Predators posting a 24-14-3 record. They were, however, ranked 28th in the NHL with 102 goals scored at home.

takes the cake. Expect to hear a lot of "Chelsea Dagger" in this series.

The Last Slice (Prediction)

Blackhawks in 7.

Yes, Antti Niemi will struggle a little bit and Chicago will have a hard time dispatching the feisty Predators. What will push this series to the brink will be the play off Pekka Rinne.

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