WARR’s hockey writer Sidney Brown offers his takes on the Blackhawks throughout their postseason run as well as predictions on the rest of the NHL
Getting a series lead hasn’t been easy for the Chicago Blackhawks in their first round match-up with Nashville — a lot has happened that wouldn’t be a part of any playoff hockey team’s plan.
Beyond having to sit their established, Stanley Cup-winning goalie, the Hawks fell behind by multiple goals in each of the first two games in Tennessee and only survived one of those by going into double overtime.
In Games 1 and 2 in Nashville, the Hawks gave up 5 combined first period goals but from the second period on they scored 5 as well. Leading to his benching, Hawks perennial starting goalie Corey Crawford gave up a total of 9 goals and he’s since fallen behind rookie Scott Darling, who has won the confidence of his coach Joel Quenneville while re-focusing the hopes of Hawks’ Nation.
Quenneville sticking with Scott Darling for now is not a decision to be argued on any level. Darling has stopped 77 of 79 shots his faced so far in this series while gaining confidence and experience. The Hawks’ defense as a whole also came alive for Game 3 after a shaky start to the series, after giving up 9 goals in the first two games in Nashville, the Hawks gave up a total of two goals, setting the tone right from the start and limiting space in where the Predators can operate.
As far as the offense is concerned for Chicago, Patrick Kane’s renewed presence has been felt right from the start of this series with his posting one goal along with two assists and Jonathan Toews has made a huge impact, playing two-way hockey while coming up big in Game 3 with a goal and an assist in a 4-2 victory.
Nashville’s Colin Wilson has been the star for his side, leading the team in goals scored (3) and their team defense has been affective at key times but fallen stars, such as the currently lost defense man Shea Webber, may turn the tide as this series goes along. Webber left Game 2 with a lower body injury along with teammate Mike Fisher.
Webber and Fisher’s absence wasn’t noticed on the scoreboard in Nashville’s big Game 2 win but it was felt in Game 3 in Chicago as the Predators struggled to keep up with the high-flying Hawks. Other defense men like Seth Jones and Roman Josi must step up and help shutdown the Hawks and start joining the offensive rush by creating extra scoring chances for their team.
Predators goalie Pekka Rinne has looked average at best outside of his strong Game 2 performance. In Game 3, Rinne looked utterly human, giving up four goals with most of them going pass shoulder high and the Hawks took advantage of his soft spots.
For Nashville to stay in this series, Rinne must change his approach by playing more towards his net instead of away from it and with his squad ahead of him, scoring chances must be created in traffic leading to pressure created in front of Darling.
A Look Ahead
With the Hawks offense back on track it will be critical for them to keep up a certain pace right from the start just like in Game 3 and take advantage of the Predators’ injuries.
Scott Darling doesn’t have to be perfect, just good enough to give his team a great chance to win. Nashville’s offense must match the intensity of their strong defensive game because playing catch up with the Hawks offensively will leave this team out to dry due to an overall lack of speed. The Hawks should impose their will against a depleted roster and if they do, this series should be done in short order.
Key Series Stats
Goals Against: NSH 2.46 – CHI 2.27
Penalty Kill %: NSH 80.8 – CHI 83.4
Faceoff %: NSH 48.9 – CHI 52.0
Shooting Efficiency %: NSH 53.6 – CHI 54.3
Goals: Colin Wilson (NSH), 3
Points: Craig Smith (NSH), 5
Goals Allowed Average: Scott Darling (CHI), 0.94
The Road Ahead (Series Schedule)
Game 4: Predators at Hawks, Tonight (8:30 p.m., CSN-Chicago)
Game 5: Hawks at Predators, Thursday, April 23 (8:30 p.m., CSN-Chicago)
*-Game 6: Predators at Hawks, Saturday, April 25 (TBD, NBC)
*-Game 7: Hawks at Predators, Monday, April 27 (TBD, CSN-Chicago)
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