By Chris Block
Opening night of the 2015 playoffs in Nashville had everything you might ask for an NHL postseason game: Double overtime, the return of a mega star, huge momentum shifts, trading scoring chances in end-to-end sequences, a dramatic game-winning goal, a blown 3-0 lead, a goalie yanking, an incredible goaltending performance, bad ice, dramatic scoring chances as a result of bad ice, bad penalty calls, bad non-penalty calls, heroes, goats and finally – one now huge goaltending controversy.
And that was just Game One.
The return of Patrick Kane just seven weeks after surgery to repair a broken left collarbone suffered on February 24 against the Florida Panthers was the big story coming into Wednesday’s playoff opener. Kane wasn’t in top form, but 75 percent or so was enough to make a big difference.
But the story coming out of the Hawks come-from-behind 4-3, double overtime victory in Game 1 is who will be the starter in Game 2.
Corey Crawford was victimized for 3 first period goals. The middle of those three was result of a Crawford turnover behind his net, but that was in part due to some bad luck in that the momentum of the puck as it approached the trapezoid slowed down as Crawford waited to play it. Nonetheless, Crawford was poke-checked by Calle Jarnkrok and Viktor Stalberg wound up with an empty net goal as a result. The first goal was preventable on many angles, but the final Preds’ first period tally was a redirect in front that most goalies would struggle to save.
Crawford was replaced coming out for the second period by Scott Darling. Crawford make 9 saves in the opening frame. Darling would go on to stop all 42 shots he faced over the next 68 minutes.
The Hawks got three 2nd period goals off the sticks of Niklas Hjalmarsson, Patrick Sharp and Jonathan Toews. After consecutive three goal frames, the next forty-seven plus minutes went scoreless.
Until Toews and Brandon Saad won a board battle low in the Preds zone. Toews dished the puck off to Marian Hossa on the half wall and headed for the net. Hossa passed off to the near left point where Duncan Keith snapped off a one-timer that Pekka Rinne didn’t see until it was too late. Toews had drawn defenseman Anton Volchenkov to the front of the net and created the screen that prevented Rinne from tracking Keith’s shot.
The game was over at 7:49 of double overtime. Three members of the Blackhawks vaunted championship ‘core’ teaming up to solve Game 1 and give Chicago a 1-0 series lead.
Post-game, Joel Quenneville commented on Scott Darling’s 42 save effort in relief of number one starter, Corey Crawford.
“”It’s one of the greatest relief performances you’re gonna see,” Quenneville told the assembled media.
“Remarkable performance by [Darling] and tremendous comeback by us.”
Quenneville wouldn’t name a starter for Game 2, but was asked if Darling’s performance makes Friday’s starter a difficult choice.
“Decision will be easy,” Quenneville responded to CSN Chicago’s Tracey Myers. “We’ll talk about it tonight and tomorrow let you know.”
When further asked to elaborate on the move to pull Crawford, Quenneville explained that yanking Crawford was about more than shaking up his team after a bad opening period.
“I didn’t like the first period and I didn’t like the goals,” the Hawks head coach said when asked if it was more about Crawford’s play or the team’s. “So, I guess it would be both.”
Nashville’s first goal was a breakdown by the Blackhawks at every level. First, Brad Richards lost an offensive zone draw to Rinne’s left. Both Patrick Kane and Richards had an opportunity to keep the puck from clearing the zone along the right half wall immediately after, but both failed to do so. This sent Colin Wilson up the ice with speed facing Michal Rozsival. Whether Wilson’s speed caught Rozsival by surprise, or it was a timing misjudgment, Rozsival badly played the defense of Wilson in moving backwards in the neutral zone. Rozsival crossed over to his left, away from the boards but kept going towards center ice, giving Wilson an uncontested alley to Crawford’s goal. Wilson blew by Rozsival and beat Crawford clean over the blocker arm at 6:07. It was a goal scorer’s goal. Wilson got Crawford to go down to his knees and then lifted the puck enough to clear Crawford, who had come out to cut down the angle and challenge Wilson’s attempt. It was a bad sequence all around that resulted in the Preds taking an early 1-0 lead.
Less than three minutes later Andrew Shaw took an elbow penalty on Craig Smith in front of the Hawks bench. Nothing came of that, though we saw a first glimpse of Quenneville’s postseason PK usage. Marcus Kruger and Joakim Nordstrom, not surprisingly, are his first forward unit. However, the tandem of Toews and Hossa was shifted part-time with Brandon Saad rotating for Toews with Hossa on the second unit.
Rozsival made some nice plays as the period went along. He made a nice read with 5 minutes to go when the Hawks went for a line change and had too many men but Rozsival held onto the puck an extra few seconds and outskated the Preds forecheck until the Hawks got compliant. He also made a strong stick play at the Hawks blue line in front of the bench just before the Preds first goal. It’s not all bad with Rozsival if you’re paying enough attention.
Nashville made it 2-0 on the Matt Cullen dump-in that died out as it rolled in on Crawford awaiting inside the trapezoid behind his goal. Keith didn’t help his goalie out on this play either as he skated right by Crawford as the goalie was about to get bombarded. Keith then drifted way too far back to the opposite side of the net, allowing Viktor Stalberg to get in between Keith and the goal. Stalberg picked off Crawford’s pass attempt, which was more of a Calle Jarnkrok poke-check / pass than anything, and stuffed the puck in Chicago’s vacated goal at 17:20.
The Preds nearly made it a three goal lead two minutes later when Hjalmarsson released Filip Forsberg to go free to the backdoor, but then Hjalmarsson didn’t account for that passing line either. Fortunately for him and the Hawks, the pass didn’t fully connect. But seconds later Kimmo Timonen had to tackle Mike Ribeiro in front of Crawford to prevent a follow up chance. Crawford wound up having to make a left toe stop on a fallen Ribeiro anyhow.
Nashville cashed in on the ensuring power play when Colin Wilson tipped Seth Jones’ shot from the right point at 19:33. The Preds second power play unit was all over the Hawks’ penalty killers here. Nordstrom would finally win a board battle but his back was facing the blue line at the half wall when he did. Nordstrom’s spinning clear attempt as he was falling became a pass to Ryan Ellis at the left point, who quickly shuffled it across to Jones to set up the goal and 3-0 lead heading into the first break.
Chicago had 6 shots on goal after twenty to Nashville’s 12.
Penalties changed the momentum of the game in the second period. The loss of Mike Fisher, who left the game with a lower-body injury, presumably the same injury he was questionable to play the game with to begin with, also played a considerable role in Chicago’s ability to comeback.
The Hawks caught a break that got them back into the game in the second minute of the 2nd, when James Neal’s stick broke in the Preds’ zone during a 4-on-4. Neal dropped his stick, then went off on a wander into the slot. Hjalmarsson read the situation and pinched down into the right circle to snap a Teuvo Teravainen set up pass at 1:43 to get Chicago on the board. Toews assisted with some battle work behind Rinne’s net. Teravainen’s pass from aside the net was perfect and Rinne couldn’t move from right to left in time to stop just the 2nd playoff goal of Hjalmarsson’s career (95 games).
Chicago had pressure and a chance to trim the deficit to two goals at the 6:20 mark but a bouncing puck scramble in front of Rinne eluded Shaw, Sharp and Bickell.
Two minutes later Patrick Sharp struck the back of the net when the Hawks had a 5-on-3 man advantage. Toews set a pick in the low slot that allowed Kane a clear passing lane to find Sharp on the backdoor. Rinne jammed Sharp on the initial chance, but Sharp was able to get his stick loose on the rebound and tapped it by Rinne at 8:32 of the 2nd. It was the 39th playoff goal of Sharp’s career (107 gms) and Kane’s 55th assist (94gms). Kane would add another helper a few shifts later.
That came at the 13:50 mark 17 seconds into a Blackhawks power play after Mattias Ekholm was sent to the box by referee Dan O’Halloran for yanking Kris Versteeg down along the boards in the Preds’ end.
The ensuing draw between Toews and Paul Gaustad was eventually won by the Hawks (on the official scoring it was awarded to Gaustad) but only with some heavy assistance from Andrew Shaw to gain control and get it back to the point. The puck was eventually worked around to Kane, who gave it to Toews at the side of the goal to Rinne’s left. Toews stuffed the puck under Rinne’s left skate to draw the game even again at 3-3 at 13:50 of the second period.
Nashville had a golden chance to regain the lead with five minutes to go in the 2nd when Matt Cullen and Craig Smith came down on a two on one. Cullen played it perfectly but Smith pulled up too soon for some reason and the pass as a result was too far in front of him. Smith would have had an empty side to shoot at had he not slowed down.
In the 3rd the Hawks got an early power play when Andrew Shaw took a questionable swim after Mike Ribeiro put his stick on Shaw’s left arm as Bickell tried to set Shaw up in the low slot. Bickell’s pass was at Shaw’s feet and Shaw at that point lost his footing, or dove; pick one. Referee Brad Meier made the call of hooking with the play right in front of him though. The power play resulted in two long shots off Hossa and Seabrook’s sticks and not much else.
Halfway through the 3rd, Nik Hjalmarsson took a needless slashing penalty against Ribeiro way behind the play. That ended a string of four consecutive penalties against the Preds, and the Hawks nearly paid dearly for it.
Colin Wilson found Ryan Ellis on the backdoor that Scott Darling made a fantastic right toe save on moving across his crease. Just after the penalty expired, Darling had to make two more stops on Craig Smith and Ribeiro chances from in close.
Darling had to come up huge again with 3:50 to go when Viktor Stalberg’s speed victimized Duncan Keith. Stalberg wheeled right past Keith and cut to his forehand toward the goal but Darling responded with another right pad save to keep the game tied and send it to OT.
“We needed a goalie there to make some big saves for us and he did,” Quenneville said talking about Darling’s huge 3rd period in his post-game press conference.
Keith, grateful of Darling’s efforts himself, after the game noting Darling’s stop on Ellis was the “difference maker” in Game 1.
The first overtime was mix of end-to-end action, tremendous goaltending on each side and broken plays.
Johnny Oduya’s stick broke on a shot at 4:30 of overtime. He was able to get skate by the bench at get a stick handed off to him quickly. Its lucky he did because Hjalmarsson wound up turning the puck over seconds later and Oduya was left to defend the chance.
The teams traded overtime power plays. Brad Richards swung the shaft of his stick into Ryan Ellis’ face as they spun in front of Nashville’s bench. Darling was peppered with chances as a result of that Predators power play but the game continued on.
Chicago got a power play when Bryan Bickell was tripped at the Predators blue line with 2:25 remaining in the first OT.
The Predators were incensed because a two minutes earlier Duncan Keith flagrantly pulled Taylor Beck down right in front of referee Brad Meier, whose whistle remained silent as Beck was pulled to the ice, preventing a prime scoring chance. It could have been a penalty shot had Meier put his arm up, but that didn’t happen.
Nashville had even more reason to be upset with the tripping call against Bickell since it was Anton Volchenkov’s stick at Bickell’s feet that sent him down to the ice. But Seth Jones, who was also there fronting Bickell at the Preds’ blue line, was the one officials sent to the box. The significance of that is Jones is a penalty killer and Volchenkov is not. It didn’t matter as the Hawks failed to get a shot on goal on that power play and the game headed into a fifth period.
Darling had made 36 saves through the sixty minutes since he’d come into the game. In the eight minutes of another overtime, Darling would make six more stops.
The second OT was not nearly as exciting as the one preceding it. Frequent whistles, strategically quick shifts and bad ice plagued the pace in the second overtime.
That was until Toews won a draw (on a night he lost many more than he won) and the Hawks retreated to begin the sequence that ended the night.
A hard Rozsival dump-in rang around to the left wing corner where Toews and Saad converged. Saad helped gain control and Toews worked it over to Hossa who set up Keith for the one-time that beat Rinne with assistance from a screen created by Toews driving to the net and taking Volchenkov with him.
Nashville came out of the game with 54 shots and another 30 either missed or blocked shots.
The Hawks led the game in overall shot attempts 93-84. Chicago had 32 shot attempts blocked. Eight of those came off the stick of Keith.
Game 2 is Friday night with an 8:30pm central time puck drop.
–Patrick Kane’s Under Armour fitted undershirt had a noticeable pad sewn into it covering the area over his surgically repaired left clavicle bone. His return seven weeks to the day of surgery was way ahead of the 10-12 week timetable set by team Dr. Michael Terry after the procedure. Kane was bumped a few times in the game. He threw a couple checks himself and appeared to be just fine after the game. He was checked hard in the game, but Kane is elusive and rarely is on the receiving end of those types of hard hits.
-Kane noted his timing was behind his norm. Timing with the puck, without the puck and presenting himself to receive the puck.
-Quenneville, by how he responded to the questions, all but came out and stated that his Game 2 starter would be Scott Darling. It’s a tough call looking at it both ways. Crawford is the guy whose carried the team since his insertion into the lineup in late November of 2011 when it became obvious that Marty Turco‘s best days were left somewhere behind in Dallas. Crawford doesn’t deserve a benching. You could say he needed to come up with a stop on the Wilson goal. That’s fair. The play behind the net was bad luck and on Keith as much as it should be Crawford. The redirect in front I can’t give Crawford much grief on. But Darling did almost singlehandedly lead the Hawks to a 1-0 series lead with his outstanding performances in the 3rd period and first OT. Maybe Quenneville goes back and watches the tape and thinks differently. I also believe Quenneville just doesn’t care much about what affects goalies or the mental psyche involved with that position. He just expects the pucks to be stopped, whomever is between the pipes and if not, he’s go to someone who proves they will make the stops. Fair enough. I would go back to Crawford and be encouraged to know Darling past his first ever NHL playoff test to an astounding level. All indicators, though, point to Darling being in the creases to start Game 2.
-The Hawks lost the faceoff battle 54-34.
Toews was 10 for 30 (33.3%). Marcus Kruger 7-19 (37%). Andrew Shaw 7-18 (39%). Brad Richards was the only Hawk with his head above water at 10-18 (56%).
Antoine Vermette was a healthy scratch. We know the Hawks acknowledge faceoffs as being a huge factor in any game. So how much longer can they sit out one of the game’s best faceoff men? Vermette’s Game 1 scratch didn’t bother me as much as it did some. The reality is he hasn’t done enough to be in the lineup. You could argue there are others who’ve been disappointments in recent weeks too. Versteeg being a prime example, but he’ll at least get a few games with Kane before he sees the press box, most likely. Bickell is a big body they don’t want to scratch unless it becomes glaringly obvious he should. Nordstrom is on the first penalty kill unit, so he’s in until he plays his way out. You could argue Shaw shouldn’t be at center but you can’t reasonable argue Shaw shouldn’t be in the lineup. So that narrows it down to a Vermette-Teravainen debate. Sorry, Teravainen has shown to be a better contributor than Vermette has done since his arrival. To get Vermette in (barring injury) you’d probably have to scratch Versteeg and move Shaw to wing. Neither of those is a bad idea, but where is the domino that forces Quenneville to make that move? Is it a loss in Game 2 because the Hawks drop too many faceoffs in key situations? Should he wait for that shark to bite the team? I personally don’t think so. Teravainen should be on the second power play unit anyhow. He can replace Versteeg and you’re better off five on five as well with Vermette in his natural position, presumably at least helping you close the gap in the faceoff circle. Shaw took 25 faceoffs on Wednesday and won 7. Shaw’s best faceoff contribution came when he was on wing and won a 50/50 battle to gain possession off the Toews draw with Gaustad that led to the Toews’ game-tying tally.
Quenneville and Stan Bowman commented when asked about the Vermette scratch earlier on Wednesday. Both basically said it just means they have great depth and a lot of options. Quenneville is a better coach because he does have those options. He has more bullets to fire than most other playoff coaches. Bottom line, faceoffs nearly cost the Hawks Game 1. They are lucky to be up 1-0 in the series. Do they acknowledge that and put their best lineup on the ice in Game 2? Probably not, but we’ll see.
-No Hawk skated less than Kimmo Timonen, who played 11:39. Of that, six shifts and 3:30 came in overtime periods. Michael Rozsival skated 19:24.
-Nashville’s low-mark among forwards (excluding Fisher) was Viktor Stalberg (16:11). Anton Volchenkov skated less than that (13:51) as his minutes were deflated by the rush of special teams in the middle of regulation and Peter Laviolette turning to Ryan Ellis more and more as the game went along.
– I rarely shop at Binnys. The liquor stores I frequent would tend to be the accused of being the shady types. But I get a kick out of that Binnys commercial jingle.
Other Post-Game Quotes
—Duncan Keith when asked about the team’s resolve and resilience after going down 3-0 in the 1st period:
“It’s just knowing it’s a long haul. Let’s face it, it’s one game. I mean, they had lots of chances to win that game too. It’s that close out there. You know, I think as we go along here we just want to keep improving. We want to have a better start next game. We know that they have a great team and they had a lot of great chances to score and win that game as well.”
—Scott Darling, talking to Luke Stuckmeyer of CSN Chicago after the game:
“It’s pretty nerve-racking to go in like that, but you’ve always got to be ready to go.”
“The eased me into it. In the 2nd period, the guys played great. I only had 2 or 3 shots.”
—Joel Quenneville on the game-winning Keith point shot and screen:
“I think we’ll see a lot of point shots as we progress in the series, both ways.”
—Joel Quenneville’s Game 1 lines, pairs, scratches & specials, 4-15-15 in Music City U.S.A.
20-Brandon Saad / 19-Jonathan Toews / 81-Marian Hossa
23-Kris Versteeg / 91-Brad Richards / 88-Patrick Kane
29-Bryan Bickell / 65-Andrew Shaw / 10-Patrick Sharp
42-Joakim Nordstrom / 16-Marcus Kruger / 86-Teuvo Teravainen
2-Duncan Keith / 32-Michal Rozsival
27-Johnny Oduya / 4-Niklas Hjalmarsson
44-Kimmo Timonen / 7-Brent Seabrook
33-Scott Darling (backup)
Scratches: G-31-Antti Raanta… D-5-David Rundblad… LW-11-Andrew Desjardins… LW-13- Dan Carcillo (upper)… D-26-Kyle Cumiskey… D-47-Michael Paliotta… C/W-80-Antoine Vermette…
*RW-39-Kyle Baun is ineligible for postseason because he was not on the team’s reserve list at the time of the NHL trade deadline. Baun was a college free agent signing. Mike Paliotta is eligible even though he signed a contract past the trade deadline because he was on the Hawks’ reserve list as a draft pick of the Hawks in 2011.
Power play I: Shaw-Toews-Kane w/ Hossa & Keith
Power play II: Versteeg-Richards-Saad w/ Sharp & Seabrook
PK forwards: Kruger-Nordstrom, Hossa w/Toews-Saad rotating
PK defense: Keith-Hjalmarsson, Oduya-Seabrook, Rozsival
–Nashville Predators’ Game 1 lineup vs Blackhawks
33-Colin Wilson / 12-MIke Fisher / 18-James Neal
9-Filip Forsberg / 63-Mike Ribeiro / 15-Craig Smith
7-Matt Cullen / 19-Calle Jarnkrok / 25-Viktor Stalberg
57-Gabriel Bourque / 28-Paul Gaustad / 41-Taylor Beck
59-Roman Josi / 6-Shea Weber
20-Anton Volchenkov / 3-Seth Jones
14-Mattias Ekholm / 4-Ryan Ellis
30-Carter Hutton (backup)
Scratches: C-10-Mike Santorelli… LW-24-Eric Nystrom (lower body)… D-44-Cody Franson (upper body)… LW-56-Kevin Fiala… D-64-Victor Bartley…
Power play I: Forsberg-Fisher-Neal w/ Josi & Weber
Power play II: Wilson-Ribeiro-Smith w/ Ellis & Jones
PK forwards: Bourque-Gaustad, Cullen-Jarnkrok
PK defense: Josi-Weber, Ekholm-Jones, Ellis
Mike Fisher left the game early in the second period then was ruled out of the game, according to the Predators’ media relations staff.
-If you thought keeping track of Quenneville’s lines was tough, try tracking what Peter Laviolette was forced to do in Game 1 after losing Mike Fisher. There were so many different forward combinations; too many to bother listing. Common ones I marked down were 9-19-18, 33-63-15, 33-7-18, 9-19-15. Stalberg jumped around. Gaustad skated with scorers. It was a mess. If would be impossible to ignore the loss of Fisher as a big turning point in the game. The Preds came undone in the second period due to the loss of Fisher and all the penalties in the middle stanza. All the power plays chopped up the second into small increments and the Hawks were able to chip away at the Preds’ 3-0 start, albeit with the aid of some lucky breaks as well.