Rocky W. Widner/NHL/Getty Images

Brian MarronFeatured ColumnistApril 13, 2017

The Washington Capitals will look to end their postseason woes with possibly their best team ever, and the Chicago Blackhawks start their journey towards another title when the second night of the 2017 NHL Playoffs begin Thursday. 

Since Alex Ovechkin arrived in the nation’s capital, Washington has not advanced past the second round of the playoffs despite three President’s Trophies. With the addition of Kevin Shattenkirk, the Capitals are more primed than ever to break through with a Stanley Cup, but can the upstart Toronto Maple Leafs ride their young talent to a stunning series win? 

Also, the Blackhawks have a shot to become an established dynasty with their fourth championship since 2010. The team still has its stars, but its depth players will need to step up to get through a tough series with the Nashville Predators. 

With that in mind, here is a look at the television and live-stream schedule for Thursday. Continue for a breakdown of each series featuring each conference’s top seed.

2017 NHL Playoffs: Thursday Schedule
Matchup Start Time (ET) Network Live Stream
Toronto Maple Leafs at Washington Capitals 7 p.m. USA Network NBC Sports Live
Matchup Start Time (ET) Network Live Stream
Nashville Predators at Chicago Blackhawks 8 p.m. NBCSN NBC Sports Live
Calgary Flames at Anaheim Ducks 10:30 p.m. NBCSN NBC Sports Live
NHL.com

Washington vs. Toronto

On paper, it seems the Capitals should be able easily handle a Toronto team that perhaps overachieved this season. Three of the Maple Leafs’ top five scorers in Mitch Marner, Auston Matthews and William Nylander eclipsed the 60-point mark despite being 20 years old or younger.

Washington simply has the best team in the NHL. It is loaded with elite offensive personnel in Nicklas Backstrom, Evgeny Kuznetsov and Ovechkin to go with four lines that bring different levels of grit while still being able to chip in on the scoreboard. The team saw 11 different forwards pot at least 10 goals this season. As a result, the Capitals finished third in the NHL with 3.18 goals per game.

Defensively, this is as complete a squad as you will find. Goaltender Braden Holtby and the Capitals took the William Jennings Trophy for the second straight season as they led the NHL in goals against.

Holtby is the reigning Vezina Trophy winner, but his defensive unit is stout in its own end while still being able to move the puck and create offense. John Carlson, Matt Niskanen and Dmitry Orlov each topped 30 points this season.

The only substantial reason why this team is not the overwhelming favorite to win a title is its past history. There is some reason behind this, since the Capitals have a history of flopping after regular season success.

ESPN’s John Buccigross provided a look at Washington’s postseason struggles:

This could help provide a Toronto team that is outmatched in every personnel category to have some hope in this series.

The Maple Leafs are an exciting young underdog that really has nothing to lose, which could ease some pressure from the team and help it play loose. Toronto also proved it can play well under high-stakes, since it was able to earn a playoff spot despite the New York Islanders and Tampa Bay Lightning chasing it for the past three weeks.

Toronto may be able to sneak a win at what promises to be an electric Air Canada Centre, but it appears to be catching a juggernaut squad that happens to be drenched with motivation. Expect Washington to advance in this matchup.

 

Chicago Blackhawks vs. Nashville Predators

The Blackhawks are perennial contenders in the Western Conference, and this season is no different.

Patrick Kane is still typically dominant with 89 points in 82 games, and arguably no active player is more dangerous at this time of year, as Mark Lazerus of the Chicago Sun-Times and Sportsnet note:

Artemi Panarin, 74 points, and Jonathan Toews, 58 points and a 54.9 percent faceoff mark, continue to excel up front. On the back end, Duncan Keith racked up 53 points while Brent Seabrook recorded 39 points.

Unlike in previous years, Chicago does not have a slew of high-caliber supporting players like Dustin Byfuglien, Andrew Ladd, Brandon Saad, Patrick Sharp and Andrew Shaw to help carry the load. Marian Hossa is now 38 years old, and a guy like Artem Anisimov is more of a steady two-way center than a serious scoring threat.

Depth players like Ryan Hartman, Tanner Kero and Nick Schmaltz will likely make their playoff debuts, and top-six forward Richard Panik, 44 points, only has eight postseason games under his belt. These players will need to step up to take pressure off of Chicago’s top players while not being defensive liabilities. Head coach Joel Quenneville knows this, per Lazerus.

“We’ll need these guys to be important players, like they were most of the season,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “We’ve had a number of guys that have come in and played some key situations for us. … They’re going to get important ice time.”

Chicago will need a complete team effort against a dangerous Nashville squad. 

The Predators possess a potent top line in stud center Ryan Johansen along with 30-goal scorers Viktor Arvidsson and Filip Forsberg. Ryan Ellis, Roman Josi and P.K. Subban lead an outstanding defensive group, but Nashville historically struggles with Chicago.

The Blackhawks won the previous two playoff series with the Predators, and they owned Nashville to a 4-1 mark this past regular season. Thus, the performance of Pekka Rinne will play a pivotal factor in how this matchup will go.

Despite long being one of the NHL’s top netminders, Rinne has not been great in the postseason throughout his career. Here are his modest numbers:

Rinne Career Playoff Stats
48 22 26 2.52 .912 1
NHL.com

Those marks will have to improve for Nashville to have a shot. The Predators can certainly skate with Chicago, and this series looks destined to go at least six games. However, it is tough to bet against the Blackhawks here given their experience and success against the Predators.

 

Statistics are courtesy of NHL.com unless otherwise noted.



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