It’s mid April and the Nashville Predators have three games against the Chicago Blackhawks this week. So… it’s basically NHL playoffs, right?

Not exactly.

But, yes.

Sort of.

Amid one of the most confusing, volatile, and entertaining seasons in recent memory, the Nashville Predators find themselves holding tightly to the 4th spot in the Central Division. That puts them in the driver’s seat of a playoff spot, at least for now, which was something most would not have believed a month ago.

However, it hasn’t been pretty for the Preds. They have feasted upon weak teams in the division, racking up a 16-3 record against Chicago, Columbus, and Detroit. Their record against Tampa, Carolina, and Florida, all teams above them in the division, is just 4-16. They’ve managed a 4-3 record against Dallas, who is also competing for the final playoff spot, though all four of the Preds’ wins against the Stars came either in overtime or a shootout.

Which brings us to this week, where the Preds play the Blackhawks three times in five days.

Preds and Blackhawks playoff chances on the line

The Preds play the Blackhawks three times this week:

  • Monday 4/19 @ 7 PM (home)
  • Wednesday 4/21 @ 7 PM (away)
  • Friday 4/23 @ 7 PM (away)

If that doesn’t look like a playoff series schedule, nothing does.

It’s arguably the biggest stretch of games for the Preds all season, especially considering what will happen if they do not gain more points than Chicago.

Courtesy of Hockey Viz (@ineffectivemath), here’s a look at the possible playoff percentage swings depending on the outcome of Monday’s “Game 1”:
Nashville Predators Chicago Blackhawks

A win for the Preds in regulation and their playoff chances go up over 50%. A win for the Blackhawks in regulation and the Preds’ chances dive below 30%.

And that’s just for one game. Multiply that by three this week and you see just how important this “playoff series” is for Nashville.

History favors Preds, but Blackhawks loom

It wasn’t that long ago when the Preds swept the Blackhawks in the playoffs. It was 2017, and the Preds used that momentum to surge through the Western Conference and into the Stanley Cup Final for the first time in franchise history.

While the two rosters have changed considerably since then, the rivalry is the same.

The Preds have won 12 of the last 17 games against the Blackhawks since that sweep in April 2017. They’ve also won five straight games against Chicago this season, most recently a 3-0 shutout on April 3rd.

But the Blackhawks are always dangerous. Patrick Kane and Alex Debrincat are as lethal a combination as there is in the Central division. Rookie Kevin Lankinen has 16 wins this season, helping Blackhawks fans move past the retirement of Corey Crawford. Pius Suter, Dominik Kubalik, and Adam Boqvist are all young stars for Chicago that are eager to make names for themselves.

Also, Chicago is only two points back from Nashville in the standings with a game in hand.

Given the circumstance, I’m not sure you can pick a favorite or an underdog in this “playoff series.” When you have two teams with a real chance to make the playoffs, anything can happen.

The Nashville Predators haven’t exactly shown they’ve moved past their roster issues from earlier in the season. They just got swept in a two game series in Carolina and really didn’t look like they belonged on the same ice with the Canes.

The Blackhawks are not the Hurricanes, not even close, but the Preds’ identity is still hard to pin down. Who will we see on the ice wearing a Nashville sweater this week? The swaggy, smooth skating confident squad from late March ready to storm back into the playoff picture? Or the floundering, feckless squad from February ready to disappoint?

With the 2021 Nashville Predators, you have to be prepared for anything.

— Featured image via Christopher Hanewinckel/USA TODAY Sports —