As the Blackhawks and Predators prepare for their Central Division playoff battle, much of the attention is on the return of Patrick Kane, the Blackhawks recent playoff successes, the breakout season of Predators rookie Filip Forsberg, and the re-emergence of goalie Pekka Rinne to Vezina form.
Often lost in the shuffle are the guys that play a larger role but are not viewed in a superstar spotlight. Let’s highlight one of these types of players from each team as the series prepares to get underway on Wednesday evening in the Music City.
Andrew Shaw- Blackhawks
The 23-year-old Shaw has already won a Stanley Cup in his first few years in the league and it wasn’t due to riding the coattails of stars such as Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane. Shaw is a grinder whose versatility allows him to play on virtually any line and in any situation. He is the quintessential role-player.
He can provide a scoring touch if need be (15 goals this year, 20 goals in 2013-14), he can play against top opponents on a shut-down checking line, and he has the ability to contribute on special teams. Shaw does have a tendency to get a little extra riled up sometimes which results in a penalty here or there, but more often than not, he is the one drawing the penalties and giving the Blackhawks lethal power play a chance to put an opponent away.
The Predators would be wise to keep an eye on Shaw when he is on the ice as he has had a level of success against them this season. In four games (in which the Blackhawks won three times), Shaw scored two goals on 10 shots while averaging 16 minutes per game. Although not a prolific scorer, his attention to detail usually finds him in front of the net for prime scoring chances.
Shaw fits perfectly into coach Joel Quenneville’s system and coach ‘Q’ is not hesitant to run him out there with the game on the line. He’s played with Toews, Kane and Patrick Sharp. He’s played with rookies and those destined for less than 15 minutes of ice time per game. He truly is an X-Factor when it comes to matching up against a Nashville team that is stacked defensively with Shea Weber, Roman Josi and Seth Jones to name a few.
He may not get the recognition that others will, but when push comes to shove, Shaw has the ability to be a difference maker and could easily play a key role in making sure that the Predators have a one-and-done season.
Fisher heads into the playoffs after having what could have been a career year if it were not for an injury that gave him a late start to the season. In only 59 games, he deposited 19 goals to go along with 20 apples for 39 points. Like Shaw, Fisher is a versatile player who can excel no matter who his linemates are. He spent time this year with Filip Forsberg, James Neal, Colin Wilson and Craig Smith and each seemed to play better with Fisher supporting in the middle of the ice.
While he has a scoring touch, he is even more valuable as a two-way player who is fundamentally sound defensively. That very attribute will come in handy against a Blackhawks team that boasts some of the most skilled forwards in the league.
Although currently on the shelf with a lower-body injury, Fisher is expected to play in this series, perhaps as soon as Game 1. Fisher will be a man on mission as he is looking for his first championship in his 16th season in the league. He came close in 2006-07 with the Ottawa Senators, but they tossed aside by the Anaheim Ducks in five games. After missing the playoffs in each of the last two seasons, Fisher as the veteran know-it-all to realize that one must capitalize on opportunities.
Fisher alternated rushes with Mike Santorelli today. My gut feeling tells me he's in tomorrow for Game 1. Will have to see morning skate
— Robby Stanley (@RStanley247) April 14, 2015
If Fisher is somehow not ready to play, the team will likely use Mike Santorelli as a fill-in and the Blackhawks will take advantage of the hole in center ice as Fisher provides a physical presence as well as a leadership component that is hard to replace. If he is ready to play as expected, he will provide a boost to those wingers that play with him and the Blackhawks defenders will have a difficult time containing him.
Fisher has already added a new addition to his family this year along with wife and country superstar Carrie Underwood. The only thing missing is the Stanley Cup.
Are you excited about this heavyweight first round battle? Who are your X-Factors? Let me know in the comments and/or on twitter @healedbyhockey