Commentary

Two-goal minimum

Blackhawks' stars step up the scoring and tie the series

Updated: April 23, 2010, 11:10 AM ET
By Jon Greenberg | ESPNChicago.com

Before the second game of the Blackhawks' roller-coaster series against Nashville, I asked a press-box puckhead what this team really needed to do to rebound from that disappointing opener.

"Score a second goal," he said.

Sometimes it's just that simple.

With the series headed back to Chicago tied at 2-2, when the Blackhawks score at least two goals, they're 2-0. Nashville -- the team, not the town -- has given the Blackhawks pain, both mental and physical. The Predators aren't going to outgun anyone but they will outwork a team, as they did to Chicago in the previous game. That can't happen again if the Hawks want to win this series in six.

"After we won Game 2, we didn't come back with the effort we needed," Jonathan Toews told reporters after Thursday's 3-0 win over Nashville. "So it's all about the next game."

That will be Saturday afternoon at the United Center, and you can bet Joel Quenneville will keep his roster, and lines, from this game intact. The third-highest-scoring team in the NHL looked like, well, itself.

"Everybody had a good game, across the board," Quenneville said to reporters after the game. "I liked the rotation of the lines, I liked the energy with the lines. We were comfortable putting anybody out there with anybody."

After holding the Predators scoreless for the second time in four games, and finally getting some consistent offensive pressure, this series looks a little different. The change came from the top.

Patrick Sharp scored two goals, and Toews added a goal and an assist as the pair broke out of a scoring slump.

Sharp, Toews and Marian Hossa came into the game without a goal and a combined four points in the series.

Toews and Hossa had struggled skating together on the same line, but they combined for the biggest goal of the series for a Chicago team that has struggled to break away from Nashville's defensive style. That's right, it was the second goal.

Nearly 13 minutes into the second, Toews banged in a Hossa shot to make it 2-0, changing the tenor of the game. Hossa worked to get the shot on goal from goaltender Pekka Rinne's left, and Toews scored on the rebound, from Rinne's right.

"Tonight we didn't have one weak link," Toews said.

Toews made his presence known in front of the net all night. In the Hawks' first goal, he was working with Sharp in front of the net after Kane fired two shots at Rinne. Sharp got credit for the goal, but either one of them could have had it.

Three-and-a-half minutes after going up 2-0, Sharp created his own goal with some nifty skating. He moved swiftly between two Predators, going right and shooting left from 32 feet away in one elegant motion.

"I thought we skated better this game and came out with energy and enthusiasm," Sharp said. "You never want to say 'must-win' this early, but we really wanted to win this one. You can't go down 3-1 against a good team like Nashville."

Toews and Hossa put the blame for their 4-1 loss in Game 3 on the shoulder pads of the stars.

"We have to look at ourselves as individuals and find that little extra we can bring to the table," Toews said at practice in Nashville on Wednesday.

Brent Sopel continued his strong series, putting up a plus-2, as did Hossa and winger Bryan Bickell, who made his playoff debut.

Antti Niemi got his second shutout of the series, making 33 saves, including five during the Predators' 7:59 minutes of power play. Chicago killed a 5-on-3, which lasted 1:18, with an additional 33 seconds of 4-on-3.

"We got through a real tough kill; they had 5-on-3 for an extended period of time," Quenneville said. "It was the turning point of the game for us."

While juggling his lines again, Quenneville also activated wingers Bickell and Adam Burish and injured defenseman Brian Campbell.

Bickell, inserted into the top line, had a plus-2 in 12:45 of ice time, as he was on the ice for both second-period goals. He was credited with an assist on Toews' goal. Burish played 9 minutes and Campbell 14:04.

Campbell said he felt better in the third, after a sluggish first period. He has been out since Alex Ovechkin sent him crashing into the boards on March 14, fracturing Campbell's ribs and his clavicle. But it wasn't just a feel-good return for Campbell. The Hawks need his abilities, as much as his presence in uniform.

"We're happy to have him back," Quenneville said. "He gives us more puck possession, quickness and speed. I thought he played better as the game progressed. He looked real strong after being out for so long."

Campbell's injury coincided with the team's post-Olympic funk. Now he's back, and for one game, at least, the Blackhawks looked like contenders again. But things have changed quickly in this series. The Hawks didn't play a perfect game. They had six penalties, a number of turnovers and were actually outshot 33-30. But they have to hope some stability and a little comfort can end this nip-and-puck series on a good note.

"We can't be satisfied knowing we won a game here," Quenneville said. "We know momentum is important in the playoffs and we want to keep it going as long as we can."

Jon Greenberg is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com.

Jon Greenberg

Columnist, ESPNChicago.com
Jon Greenberg is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com. He has lived and worked in Chicago since 2003, and is a graduate of Ohio University and the University of Chicago.

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