Don't call it an upset
Nashville looked like the better team in outworking, outhitting Blackhawks in win
After that tough, seemingly illusory defeat in Game 1, Patrick Sharp said he didn't believe in classifying a loss as an upset when it comes in the playoffs.
Two games -- and one more loss later -- no one is talking upset. No, they're talking early vacations, disappointments and gut checks.
The Nashville Predators clearly looked like the better team Monday night in Nashville, beating the Blackhawks 4-1 and taking a 2-1 lead in the best-of-seven series.
The Predators scored first, but the Blackhawks answered, and the teams played to a 1-1 tie after the first period. But an ominous statistic resulting from that period was the Predators' 16-6 advantage in hits. Chicago wanted to match the Predators in energy, especially in their home building, but they weren't even close.
Statistics certainly can lie, but the first-period hit totals were pretty dead-on. And they were a harbinger of what was to come in two miserable periods to endure for Blackhawks fans, who watched their team fail to rise above the fray and challenge a physically dominating home team. Maybe the Hawks should have been waving those white towels that dominated the lower bowl on TV.
"They were definitely the harder-working team," Hawks coach Joel Quenneville said on Comcast SportsNet. "They were more resilient."
Quenneville implored his team to be more abrasive before Game 2. I'm not sure what he told them before this game, but it's obvious his team didn't listen.
Despite being outshot 10-9 in the second period, Nashville scored twice -- on a David Legwand goal in transition and a Shea Weber blast inside the blue line -- to take control of the game and the series. In fact, the Predators scored in all three periods, while dominating defensively. It was a complete and total beating, a real humbling of the second-seeded Hawks.
"We let them control the pace of the game for 60 minutes," a glum-looking Jonathan Toews said on Comcast.
It's never a good sign when your team plays better on the penalty kill than at full strength. The Hawks survived three first-period penalties and wound up getting a power-play goal from Tomas Kopecky to tie the game.
Three penalty kills in one period? That shows back-against-the-wall desire, which the team will need to draw from Thursday, but where is the creativity at full strength? The Hawks missed all nine shots at full strength, while the Predators went 4-for-9 on 5-on-5 shooting.
The Predators' gum-it-up defensive style is the reason for the Hawks' oh-fer, but they were a No. 7 seed for a reason. Pretty much every team traps in some sense, right? The Predators are just good at it.
The Blackhawks were outshot 35-27, and their best players didn't get nearly enough shots. Toews had one in the first period, and that's it. Patrick Kane got one in the third, and that's it. Marian Hossa had three shots, one short-handed, but none in the second, when the Predators took control of the game.
"It's tough," Toews said to reporters. "Obviously when guys like myself are not producing, we're not going to win games, simple as that. It's frustrating when you have chances and don't see them go in. We don't need to make excuses. We need to take advantage of our chances."
Nashville goaltender Pekka Rinne deserves some of the credit. He had a .911 save percentage and a 2.53 goals against average in the regular season -- numbers that don't jump out at you. But he's risen to the occasion in the postseason.
How can the Blackhawks utilize their offensive weapons when they're surrounded by Predators? Well, it goes both ways. Chicago is going to have to work for its scoring chances, and hope for some luck, because Rinne continues to make dynamic saves.
"It comes down to getting more loose pucks, getting to the net," Quenneville said. "We had the puck a lot, but it takes work to get it and it takes work to keep it. Tonight we didn't do a good job of that."
Will Quenneville tinker with his offensive strategy, just like he's changed lines and defensive pairings?
"I still think simplicity is what's going to get us through it," he said.
It's a good thing the Hawks are on the road, where they can focus on the next game, without any of the distractions of home and the worried looks of friends and family. Short of being offered a date with Taylor Swift, I can't imagine this disappointed team making much of a dent in Nashville's nightlife the next two nights. Though maybe a bender would loosen the Hawks up.
The remaining games of this series, be it two, three or four, have turned into a crucible for the offensively gifted, wildly talented Blackhawks. If they win it, it will be because they found an inner reserve that all athletes dream of tapping at the right moment. If they fail, they can only blame themselves and deal with the disappointment.
"Every game we've got to play desperate now," Toews said. "There's no more time to wait. We've said it over and over again that we have to be patient with this team. But we've got to take control of our own fate."
Jon Greenberg is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com.