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NHL Playoff Schedule 2016: Stanley Cup Dates, Game Times for Updated Matchups

Steve Silverman@@profootballboyFeatured ColumnistApril 21, 2016

Vladimir Tarasenko has caused big problems for the Chicago Blackhawks.
Vladimir Tarasenko has caused big problems for the Chicago Blackhawks.Nam Y. Huh/Associated Press

The Chicago Blackhawks are on life support in their first-round series with the St. Louis Blues.

Joel Quenneville's defending Stanley Cup champions find themselves down 3-1 to a strong and motivated St. Louis team. The Blackhawks are down, but with a core that includes Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith and Corey Crawford, they are not out.

The Blackhawks normally dictate the pace in most of their playoff series, but the Blues have been physical and have also played with precision through the first four games.

Vladimir Tarasenko (three goals, two assists) has driven the St. Louis offense, which has scored four third-period goals in the last two games. The Blues won Games 3 and 4 in Chicago after dropping a heartbreaker at home in Game 2. If they can win Thursday night at Scottrade Center, they will close out the Blackhawks and advance to the second round for the first time since the 2011-12 season.

The Blackhawks are going to have play Game 5 without Andrew Shaw, who scored a goal and had two assists in Game 4. Shaw lost control in the late stages of that game and was seen mouthing a homophobic slur and making a gesture at the referees when he was unhappy with a penalty call.

The NHL suspended Shaw for one game for his outbursts, per Chris Peters of CBS Sports, despite the player issuing an emotional apology Wednesday afternoon.

NBC Sports Chicago @NBCSChicago

Andrew Shaw issues statement regarding insensitive remarks. Updated with video of apology: https://t.co/KzdvkyCUVq https://t.co/WX2ZJwSGBU

Shaw has been effective throughout the series because he has given the Blackhawks a strong net-front presence. His ability to deflect shots and screen goalie Brian Elliott has been quite effective for Chicago. 

The Blackhawks have made it their specialty to close opponents out when they have had the opportunity in the past. They have also extricated themselves from dangerous situations in the past. 

They were down 3-2 to the Anaheim Ducks in last year's Western Conference Final, and they pulled out Games 6 and 7 to win that series.

It's a much deeper hole against a talented and hungry opponent this time around. If the Blackhawks are going to survive, they are going to have to do it without Shaw's ability to provide a strong presence the offensive zone.

Look for Tarasenko, Jaden Schwartz, Alex Steen and Kevin Shattenkirk to push the Blackhawks with their best game. It may just be enough to help the Blues advance to the second round.

Thursday's NHL schedule
GameSeries StandingTime (ET)TV
Pittsburgh at N.Y. RangersPittsburgh, 2-17 p.m.CNBC, TVAS, SN, MSG, ROOT
Detroit at Tampa BayTampa Bay, 3-17 p.m.NBCSN, CBC, TVAS2, SUN, FS-D
Anaheim at NashvilleNashville, 2-18 p.m.NHLN-US, FX-CA, TVAS3, FS-TN, PRIME
Chicago at St. LouisSt. Louis, 3-19:30 p.m.NBCSN, TVAS, SN, FS-MW, CSN-CH
NHL.com

The Nashville Predators came home Tuesday night with a 2-0 lead in their series with the Anaheim Ducks, who earned the Pacific Division championship, and the playoff schedule looked favorable.

They had that lead because they outplayed the Ducks on their home ice in back-to-back games, and there was a thought that the Preds would ride that momentum as they came home and continue to assert themselves.

However, the Ducks are a talented and prideful bunch. They didn't blame anyone but themselves for the hole they were in, and head coach Bruce Boudreau challenged his players to step up.

They did just that in a 3-0 win in Game 3. The Ducks won races and corner battles and were more creative with the puck for three period, getting themselves back into the series.

Ryan Johansen would like to see the Predators come out with a sharper effort in Game 4.
Ryan Johansen would like to see the Predators come out with a sharper effort in Game 4.Mark Humphrey/Associated Press

Which Anaheim team will show up in Game 4? With a chance to square the series, the Ducks will need the same kind of consistent effort they put forth in Game 3.

Anaheim forward Chris Stewart had a goal and an assist in the victory, and he knows the Ducks have more work to do. "We didn't make it easy on us," Stewart told the media after the game. "But at the end of the day, it is a race to four and it's 2-1 now and we have one more to play before we go home."

The Predators and their fans were unhappy with their effort, and they will have to pick it up or risk undoing the advantage they gained by winning two games at the Honda Center.

"We just weren't good enough in all areas," Predators center Ryan Johansen said to the media after Game 3. "We weren't quick, we weren't fast, we didn't use our legs, and we didn't use our brains as fast as we needed to. That's why it looked easy out there for them."

The Predators know they weren't good enough on Tuesday, but the high-powered Ducks had much to do with that. They may put in a better effort, but it may not be good enough to slow down the visitors.

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