By Michael Calvert
The Blackhawks closed out Nashville in another dramatic, come-from-behind whirlwind night at United Center on Saturday.
Duncan Keith scored with 3:48 to play in regulation to complete the Hawks’ Game 6 comeback. Keith’s tally was his second of the series and gave the home team a 4-3 lead that would stand as the final score.
A wild opening 11 minutes of the game saw the Predators gain 2-0 and 3-1 leads on the backs of two James Neal goals, and another from Matt Cullen that got Scott Darling pulled from the net in favor of Corey Crawford.
Darling was the Game 6 starter as he’s managed to keep the net since Game 3 and the Hawks went in with what has become a pretty consistent line arrangement.
The Blackhawks tightened up in front of Crawford as he needed to make just 13 saves in 49 minutes the rest of the way. That opposed to Darling, who saw 12 shots in 11:16 of play.
Chicago’s best players all stood out in Saturday’s series-clincher. Patrick Sharp, Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane all notched goals to draw the game before the first period ended. It remained tied at 3-3 until Keith found a lane to the net late in the third.
The line of Versteeg, Richards and Kane took the opening faceoff with:
Saad, Toews, Hossa
Bickell, Vermette, Sharp
Desjardins, Kruger, Shaw
That is a pretty potentially dangerous third line.
1st period: The first period was truly something to behold, and really didn’t seem to set the tone for the game at all. The first was like some kind of bonus for girlfriends or wives who may not really wanted to watch the game. With a combined 6 goals in the 1st it looked like this might be a pretty high scoring game.
James Neal scored just 1:10 into the game on a pretty nice individual play, guys just a hell of a player and had a great series.
The Hawks are looking really bad in the first 4 minutes, playing sloppy with the puck and pretty much run around the ice by the Preds.
Rozsival turns the puck over in his own zone with a lazy pass into the middle that Mike Fisher almost buries. Continuing with the one sided play early, Timonen tackles Cullen at 6:52, which is holding in NHL speak. Just over a minute into the Nashville PP, James Neal deflects a Franson shot, 2-0 Neals.
At this point it’s starting to look a little grim for the Hawks, but far be it for me or anyone to write this team off in the playoffs.
10:37 Sharp puts a Keith shot that rebounded from the end boards in and cut the James Neal lead in half.
The lead was pushed right back to 2 when Matt Cullen basically beat the entire Hawks team and likely put Darling back on the bench for the remainder of the playoffs. This goal really seemed to take the wind out of the crowds sail, but not the Hawks players themselves. Spoiler alert, it was all Hawks scoring from here on out.
On their first PP the Hawks get back within one when Toews tips in a Patrick Sharp shot right off the faceoff.
15:15 Hossa holds Roman Josi, a penalty he was more or less forced to take as Josi would have had a likely breakaway. The Hawks killed the penalty clean, actually the only real scoring opportunity on said kill was the Hawks short-handed, it felt like this kill could have been a real momentum shifter for the Blackhawks.
With just 6 seconds left in the first, directly off a clean Richards faceoff win, Keith put one on a silver platter for Kane and he put a rocket top shelf past Rinne to tie it at 3. I can only imagine the pandemonium at the UC when that happened.
2nd period: They played a second period and the Hawks had the better of it, but nothing really happened, not anything like the first or the end of the third for that matter.
End of 3rd period: The Hawks really started to take this game by the throat at 15:00 minutes into the 3rd. After an extended possession in the Predators zone, the top line was able to keep the puck for well over a minute and Keith feigned a few shots then unloaded the slapper that would send the Hawks into the second round.
The Keith goal was a beauty and was nice to see Duncs get it as he’s been huge all series, guys suddenly got a knack for GW goals.
This game was a heart attack in a bottle, one of the more entertaining I’ve seen in a long time
Cliché alert; it’s too bad someone had to lose this series, Nashville was worthy. They had the misfortune of getting the Hawks so early.
Seemed the Hawks were going to take every opportunity to pound Roman Josi, not a bad plan, the guy is great.
I think the Darling era is over, kind of glad, who wants to play pin the tail on the goalie every single game.