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
Winning a triple-overtime affair feels good in the moment in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, but it can carry some lasting effects, mainly by keeping a team from being as sharp as it wants to be in the next game.
Add in some “let’s save our season”-style desperation from the other team and you have the kind of combination needed to produce Thursday’s result in Game 6 of the Chicago Blackhawks and Nashville Predators’ first-round series, a 5-2 thrashing by the Preds that saw them look stronger as the night went on while the Hawks fell back a bit momentum-wise in spite of their 3-2 series lead.
Looking back on Games 4 and 5, the Hawks showed that they can play an opponent’s defensive style while staying patient with their offensive game. On the other hand, Chicago hurt its cause by turning over the puck, taking dumb penalties and breaking down in defensive coverage — things that have haunted this team all season long have taken a toll in these last two games.
In Game 4, Duncan Keith’s mismanagement of the puck led to a James Neal goal for the Predators, which gave the road team a 2-1 lead that that time and in Game 5 all three third-period goals scored by Nashville came off of defensive coverage breakdowns. If the Hawks want to close out Nashville in Game 6 Saturday in Chicago, they must clean up the silly mistakes and keep the game simple.
Reserves Need To Be Heard
In the playoffs superstars routinely step up to the plate, but contributions from your role players make the difference in winning series and titles.
Brandon Saad (goal in Game 4) and Brad Richards (goal in Game 5) have finally made themselves noticed on the score sheet. Still, others like Andrew Shaw, Bryan Bickell and Kris Versteeg — who scored his first goal of the playoffs in Game 5 — must put forth the effort offensively in particular to impact the game by creating traffic in front of the net to give the Hawks multiple scoring chances.
As far as goalie Scott Darling is concerned, he’s NOT to blame for the Game 5 loss. Eventually, Darling was going to come back down to earth after his courageous Game 1 performance. Darling has done enough to keep the Hawks in games but it is the players, particularly the defensemen in front of him, that need to step up with more consistency.
Nashville Steps Up Scoring
I said in my last post that Nashville’s defensemen must step up offensively if they wanted to stay in this series. Second-year man Seth Jones has done just that by tallying 2 assists in his last two games while playing strong defense, neutralizing the Hawks’ top scoring lines.
Mike Fisher, injured in Game 2, made a heroic return in Game 5 by posting an assist along with two hits to make his presence felt on the ice. Filip Forsberg has made a big name for himself in this series, posting a hat trick in Game 5 while just playing in just his fifth career playoff game.
Starting goalie Pekka Rinne returned to form Thursday, collecting 28 saves to help keep Nashville in the series. After a total meltdown in Game 3, Rinne has become a stonewall making the easy saves and not allowing too many rebounds, limiting the Hawks attack and making it much more inconsistent.
Playing without star defenseman Shea Webber in the last couple games has rallied the Nashville troops and their defensive game has solidified and stifled the Hawks. With Game 6 on the horizon, for the first time since Game 1 you can really say anything is possible for their undermanned roster.
Key Stats (Games 4 and 5)
Power Play — NSH (1-3), CHI (0-4)
Hits — NSH (66), CHI (50)
Blocked shots — NSH (39), CHI (19)
Power Play — CHI (0-2), NSH (2-3)
Hits — CHI (16), NSH (36)
Blocked Shots — CHI (14), NSH (15)
Goals: Colin Wilson (NSH), 4
Points: Craig Smith (NSH), 5
Goals Allowed Average: Scott Darling (CHI), 1.68
CHI — Brent Seabrook’s game-winning goal in the third overtime in Game 4 ended the longest game to date in the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
CHI — Jonathan Toews was named as one of three finalists for the Selke Trophy (Best Defensive Forward). Toews won the award in 2013, his competition this year is Patrice Bergeron (Boston Bruins) and Anze Kopitar (Los Angeles Kings).
Looking At Game 6
It is as simple as this for the Hawks: clean up the sloppy mistakes and take a page out of the Game 3 playbook by setting the tone right from the start and using the energy from the United Center crowd to your advantage.
As far as Nashville’s concerned, they have to keep frustrating the Hawks with their physical play and limit the Hawks’ scoring chances by not giving them any space on the ice to create plays.
The Road Ahead (Series Schedule)
Game 6: Predators at Hawks, Saturday, April 25 (7 PM, NBC)
*-Game 7: Hawks at Predators, Monday, April 27 (TBD, CSN-Chicago)
Follow Regal Radio on Twitter @regalradio1 and on Facebook under Regal Radio and Sidney Brown on Twitter @sidkid80