(Photo: Blackhawks Facebook)

It wouldn’t be a Blackhawks playoff clincher without comebacks, heroics, and nail-biters. They took down the Nashville Predators in six games, closing the series on home ice Saturday night with a first period rally and a late third period game-winner.

The Blackhawks were prey for the first 10 minutes of the game. The Preds scored two goals in that time and dominated puck possession.

It all started about a minute after puck drop when James Neal hit Brandon Saad in the Hawks’ offensive zone, freeing the puck for Seth Jones to take down the ice. Jones’ shot was blocked by Niklas Hjalmarsson only to be recovered by Neal, who skirted Johnny Oduya, skating right of center ice then backhanding left into the net.

Neal tallied the second goal while Kimmo Timonen served a holding penalty when, at 11:51 in the first, he deflected in a shot from Cody Franson–who fired from the blue line. Filip Forsberg helped set up the play.

In a comeback attempt, Jonathan Toews joined the team on the ice and fed the puck back to Duncan Keith, who shot from the blue line wide of the net, where Patrick Sharp rebounded from a tricky angle to the right of the net with 9:23 left in the first.

But less than a minute later, Matt Cullen interrupted the rally by taking the puck from center ice, past two defensemen, off the post and in the net for a 3-1 lead. Mike Ribeiro was credited with the assist.

Hoping for a change in momentum, Coach Joel Quenneville made the move he did when Chicago fell behind in Game One–a goalie swap. Starting goalie Corey Crawford regained his spot in net over Scott Darling.

 

  “It’s frustrating [to fall behind], but I mean, they scored off a couple quick plays that I don’t think they had to work too hard for,” Keith said. “We knew there was lots of time and we’ve got confidence in our offensive ability as a team. We showed that.”

Neal would cross-check Andrew Shaw shortly after and, with a man-advantage, in less than a minute the game would be 3-2. With 7:46 to go in the first, Toews would win a face-off to Patrick Kane, who’d pass back to Sharp for a shot from just past the right circle for Toews to re-direct into the net.

Unwilling to head into intermission behind, Brad Richards would win another face-off, sending the puck to Keith and back to Kane for a top-shelf goal from the top of the circle.

 

Nashville led the first period in shots, 14-11. Chicago had two penalties in the first, while Nashville got away with one.

The second period was a scoreless battle, with 12 shots on goal for the Hawks and seven for the Preds. Chicago even killed a tripping penalty called on Richards.

The third period was, too. Both teams fought hard to earn the game-winner. Nashville killed two penalties.

But, Chicago had a sea of red cheering them on, shaking the floors with encouragement, willing them to win.

And, with just under four minutes left in the game, with Marian Hossa and Toews creating havoc in front of the net, Keith took a pass from Toews, stick-handled for a couple fakes near the blue line then slapped a shot from the point for the go-ahead-turned-game-winning-goal.

 

“It was the end of their shift and we’d had some chances before, so they were kind of reeling a little bit,” Keith said. “I just wanted to make it count.”  

 

That he did. The teams were tied with face-off wins. Nashville led 53-36 in hits and 15-10 in blocked shots.

The Blackhawks stole another win. In fact, they stole a series. Keith scored another comeback game-winner in Game One before the Hawks fell 6-2 in Game Two. Then they returned to Chicago to regain a series lead with a 4-2 win on home ice before taking the Preds into second-overtime for a 3-1 series gap. The Predators beat Chicago 5-2 back in Nashville for 3-2 in the series, before returning home again with another possibility to clinch.

They took the series to be honored with cheers and the song “Sweet Home Chicago.”

Then, they closed with the best tradition of all–hockey handshakes.

In the series, Keith had two game winners and five assists. Toews had three goals and five assists. Sharp had three goals and two assists. Kane, returning from injury, had two goals and five assists. Hossa had five assists. Darling had a .936 save percentage and 2.21 goals-allowed average, and Crawford had a .850 save percentage, but stopped all 13 shots in his return Saturday night.

“If you want to get anywhere at this level, I think your best players have to be your best players,” Toews said. “Those are the guys you need to be your best players, and I think they want that more than anything. That’s a huge reason why this team’s had success in the last number of years.”

 

shakes and 12

 

Now, the Blackhawks are fully aware of what’s next and they don’t expect it to be easy. They’ll be hosting the Minnesota Wild, who just knocked out the St. Louis Blues, for Round II.

“I’d say they’re coming in hot. They’re playing great hockey. They just beat a really, really good team,” Toews said of the Wild. “So, in some way, I think maybe it’s the other way around. Obviously, [people] want to say that we’ve beat them the last two years, but I don’t think there’s any favorite in this series.”

The Wild’s netminder Devan Dubnyk is 27-9-2 since he joined the team Jan. 14, with a playoff save percentage of .923 and goals-against average of .232.

In the regular season, Chicago beat Minnesota 5-3 Dec. 16 at home. The Blackhawks won again, 4-2, on Jan. 8 in Minnesota and then beat the Wild 4-1 Jan. 11 at the United Center. On Feb. 3, the Wild took the game 3-0 in Minnesota; and, on April 7, they defeated the Blackhawks 2-1 in Chicago to clinch a playoff spot.

The Wild has strength in defense, which is one of Chicago’s weaknesses aside from their interchangeable goaltenders.

“They know how to shut things down and play that defensive game,” Crawford said. “And then when it almost seems like they’re just going to do that, then they turn it on and they start, not cheating, but attacking a little bit more. I feel like they kind of switch it up a little bit.”

The Blackhawks will have to keep their stars working and charging the net to stay on top of a team determined to go beyond the second round this year.

“We know them really well,” said Wild winger Zach Parise. “They’re a much more puck possession style team.”

But with that possession, the Hawks will have to rely on gritty goals and redirections with net-front presence from guys like Andrew Shaw and Bryan Bickell.

Bickell, coincidentally, has 15 goals against the Wild in the 23 games he’s played since the 2013 playoffs. He is due for some standout playing time.

Crawford is expected to start in net and Teuvo Teravainen has seen some practice time with Sharp and Antoine Vermette–likely meaning he’ll have a spot as well.

“I think we have a pretty good combination there,” Teravainen said. “We have some speed. We can shoot the puck. Really smart guys. If we play together, it’s going to be good.”

The series starts Friday in Chicago and continues as scheduled below.

Friday, May 1
8:30 p.m. CT
Minnesota at Chicago
NBCSN, Sportsnet, TVA Sports

Sunday, May 3
7:30 p.m.
Minnesota at Chicago
NBCSN, CBC, SN360 TVA Sports

Tuesday, May 5
7 p.m.
Chicago at Minnesota
NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports

Thursday, May 7
8:30 p.m.
Chicago at Minnesota
NBCSN, Sportsnet, TVA Sports

 

(If needed)
Saturday, May 9

TBD
Minnesota at Chicago

Monday, May 11
TBD
Chicago at Minnesota

Wednesday, May 13
TBD
Minnesota at Chicago

 

(As always, click the bold links for video clips or other information.)

Carly Mullady grew up needing to know more about icing than its deliciousness on cupcakes. She's the lone daughter of four children, with a father who was among the last cut from the Midwest tryouts for the 1980 Miracle on Ice Olympic team. And she knows very little matches the thrill that happens from puck-drop to handshakes. A rink didn’t return to her hometown until she was gone, but she’s been able to see two younger brothers on the ice. She's their feistiest fan. Her other hockey loyalty lies with the Blackhawks--whether it's meant seeing games for $8 with student IDs when the Madhouse didn’t have much of a temper at all, or dancing to Chelsea Dagger at standing room only--there’s something magical about a roaring anthem, the Indianhead sweater, and the Original Six. A former journalist and current editor, she carries a penchant for excitement (and maybe even fighting) with a resume that includes working for Chicago-area newspapers, and television, including The Jerry Springer Show, as well as NBCUniversal in New York. After East Coast living and a return to the Chicago area, the new Mrs. is giving Graceland a go with her Southern Gent, who now shares her adoration of the game, and their rescue dog, Doc Holliday. Other interests include Cubs, Bears, Illini, Crimson Tide, Pumpkin Spice Lattes, baking a mean pineapple upside-down cake, Kate Spade accessories, and a properly coordinated cardigan for every ensemble.

2 COMMENTS

Leave a Reply