By Jon Fromi
The Chicago Blackhawks came back to the United Center Sunday afternoon and took a 2-1 series lead in their Western Conference quarterfinal with the Nashville Predators. Three second period tallies and a stronger defensive effort paved the way for a 4-2 Blackhawks triumph.
First Period-Nashville went to the power play in the opening minute when Kimmo Timonen held the stick of Taylor Beck. Marian Hossa led a shorthanded charge that was stopped by Predators goalie Pekka Rinne. The Blackhawks killed the penalty fairly easily.
Nashville’s first shot came off the stick of Beck in the fifth minute but the attempt was covered by Hawks goalie Scott Darling. The action was back and forth and the pace was brisk to say the least.
Rinne gloved a Patrick Sharp shot on goal near the midway point of the period. Hossa had a chance after a miss by Duncan Keith but only hit the side of the net. Cody Franson wound up with a loose puck in the 15th minute but Darling knocked the attempt away.
Hossa got the puck to Andrew Desjardins from the red line and the Hawks gained entry into the Nashville zone. Desjardins skated to the right circle and got off a shot that was blocked by Roman Josi. Staying with the puck, Desjardins fired again. This one got by Rinne and gave Chicago a 1-0 lead 14:48 into the period.
The response was quick. Nashville got the puck into Hawks territory after losing the faceoff. Craig Smith got to a loose puck at the left dot and hit Mike Ribeiro in the slot. Ribiero banged it over the glove of Darling to tie the game at a goal apiece 15:19 into the period. That score held up as the teams went to the locker rooms.
Second Period-Chicago regained the lead just 36 seconds into the middle frame. Keith got a breakout pass to Toews at center ice. The captain passed to Hossa skating across the Nashville blue line and took the drop pass at the top of the right circle. The wrist shot went over the right pad of Rinne and the Hawks were up 2-1.
Again, the Predators returned fire in short order. Ribeiro won a faceoff in the offensive zone with the puck cycling out to Mattias Ekholm. The defenseman slapped the puck past Darling, off the post and into the net at the 58 second mark to draw Nashville even.
The Hawks took the lead for good at the 3:38 mark. Brandon Saad took the puck from Colin Wilson and started on a beeline to the top of the left circle. The shot beat Rinne stick side and gave the Blackhawks a 3-2 advantage. This time, there would be no answer from the visitors.
A Sharp blowout at the Nashville blue line allowed Gabriel Bourque to come down the left boards and into the Blackhawks zone unmolested in the seventh minute. His shot from the left dot got by Darling but clanged off the crossbar. At this point, Bryan Bickell and Paul Gaustad decided to roll around the ice and were given matching roughing penalties.
The fourth Chicago goal came after Andrew Shaw won a battle in the left corner and slid a pass to Toews. Toews came around the net with the puck and found Seabrook in the slot. The shot was slowed by Rinne’s pads but still had enough gas to slide acros the line at the 12:41 mark. Nashville coach Peter Laviolette then took his time out.
Shortly after play resumed, Brad Richards got a backhand off that came off of the shoulder of Rinne but was stopped by the crossbar. Nevertheless, the Hawks entered the second intermission up 4-2.
Third Period- Smith tried to force a puck through the pad of Darling late in the fifth minute and was unsuccessful. Rozsival took a feed from Patrick Kane in the slot but the puck didn’t settle enough for a decent shot. A Toews shot got under the pad of Rinne a minute later but the whistle blew the play dead without the biscuit making it all the way across the goal line.
Gaustad caught Bickell with his stick to hand the Hawks their first power play of the afternoon. Chicago never really gained solid entry in the two-minute advantage. Marcus Kruger got off a shot after the penalty expired that was gloved by Rinne.
With 9:42 remaining, Ribeiro fired a slap shot with a lot of traffic in front of Darling. However, Darling gloved the attempt and snuffed out a redirect chance by Smith 30 seconds later.
Bickell gathered in a loose puck in neutral ice and came into the Preds zone with Kane on his left. The shot was knocked out of play by Rinne and the Hawks lead held at two goals with just under seven minutes to go.
The Blackhawks stayed active on the forecheck as the minutes wound down and prevented the Predators from getting started on a comeback. Rinne went to the bench with 2:38 remaining. They won a faceoff in the offensive zone but Andrew Shaw cleared the puck. The Hawks had several chances at an empty net but weren’t able to find the twine. Ribeiro was called for holding Toews with 43 seconds left to bring Rinne back out. Chicago closed out the game playing keep-a-way on the power play.
Three Stars-Toews (third), Desjardins (second), Hossa (first)
-Those of you who were hating on Colin Wilson after the forward drew first blood for the Preds in Games 1 and 2 can be sated by the fact that his actions helped set up the game-winner Sunday. He didn’t cover well for Seth Jones when the defenseman went in deep to chase a puck and his misplay off the half boards helped send Saad on his way to his unassisted goal.
-Hey, everybody…Pekka Rinne gave up four goals! Start warming up Carter Hutton. Wait…I forgot…starting goalies who have big seasons aren’t subject to knee-jerk lambasting in towns not named Chicago.
-Darling was solid enough for the Blackhawks in Game 3. He stopped 35 of 37 shots and made some big saves in the second period, but the defense was loads better in front of him than in Music City. If there is no goalie controversy, isn’t the net in Game 4 Corey Crawford’s?
-Andrew Shaw managed to get himself hit while on the Hawks bench when Ribeiro took a whack at him in the third period. Note to Ribeiro: maybe that’s not the guy to rile up. Hasn’t he seen the way Shaw took out Mike Smith back in 2012?
-Game 4 is in Chicago on Tuesday night. Puck drops at…8:30? Dang; I’ll be asleep before the start of the third. Thank goodness for caffine pills.
@JonFromi – on Twitter