Missed opportunities will be the theme of a series the Nashville Predators had an opportunity to win against the Chicago Blackhawks as the Hawks closed out the series with a 5-3 win at Bridgestone Arena. Missed opportunities in the form of a power play that was awful throughout the series. Missed opportunities in failing to close out the Hawks with 13 seconds remaining in game 5. Missed opportunities by allowing a couple of untimely and freakish goals in game six.
Now the Predators have an off season to think about what could have been.
In a game that saw both teams go back and forth in the first period, the Hawks claimed a 4-3 lead at the end of the first period. Given the way that the period played out, one could expect the final score to be something atrocious like 10-9. Instead, after the explosive scoring of the first, both teams settled in to a defensive struggle.
Duncan Keith opened the scoring at 6:38 of the first period with his first goal of the series when he wired a shot past a screened Pekka Rinne for the tally.
Shea Weber would answer at 8:50 of the first with a shot from the blue line that eluded Chicago goaltender Antti Niemi.
With the home crowd roaring at full volume, Chicago proceeded to score the next two goals and threatened to blow the game wide open. 20 Cent tallied at 9:54 with a fluke goal. Looking as if he was going to dump the puck behind the net for a change for the Hawks, his shot caromed off the side board and past an out of position Rinne for one of the strangest goals I have seen. Patrick Sharp added another goal at 12:03 as the Hawks swarmed Rinne and the Predators defense. The Predators were in trouble and needed to answer.
Answer they did.
Jason Arnott finally got off the schneid and tallied a power play goal, taking a nice feed from Patric Hornqvist, who was seeing his first action since the first game of the series. Great to see the Captain finally contribute.
Arnott would tally his second goal at 19:05 to tie the game at three with a deflection of a Dan Hamhuis shot. The home crowd was in full throat and the momentum was with the home team.
That would be quickly short circuited as the Hawks went on a power play, and as they had often done in this series, tallied within just a few seconds of going to the man advantage.Jonathan Toews was crashing the crease and gathered in a rebound and knocked it past Rinne at 19:29 to give the Hawks a 4-3 advantage going into the first intermission.
That 4-3 score would stand through the second period as Chicago would have 10 minutes of power play time and would out shoot the predators 16-4. The penalty kill was successful, killing off all the Hawks man advantage situations, but it certainly took the energy out of the team and killed the opportunity to build any momentum.
The third period would see the Predators out shoot the Hawks 15-3, but the Predators could not solve Niemi. The Predators would have six minutes of power play time, but once again the special teams reverted to form and went scoreless. The Hawks would add an empty netter by John Madden for the final score of 5-3.
The Predators will look back on this series and see numerous missed opportunities. Failing to close out Chicago in game 5 was a punch in the gut. Kudos to this team for coming back and giving a valiant effort in this game. Lesser teams would not have shown up.
The Predators missed opportunities to bury shots throughout the series. Failing to finish scoring chances cost the Predators. The power play was an abysmal failure, scoring one time in 25 chances. These are areas that have to improve in the coming season.
It would be easy to focus on these shortcomings and the disappointment of another first round exit. Instead, focus on the positives about this team. This team was picked by some to finish 14th in the West. Instead, they recorded 100 points and finished 7th. This team has a young core of players that got their first taste of playoff experience, and they acquitted themselves very well. This team exceed all expectations and surprised the so called experts with their performance.
The loss is disappointing. Losing another playoff series in the first round is disappointing. That's good. We should expect more. As painful as this is, it is a learning experience and part of the growth process.
This team has a bright future. Focus on the positives. Sure, I wish the outcome were different, but I feel that this team is building in the right direction.
There is more to come, Predator fans. Good things.
And the Predator nation will be there to witness those successes.