The Predators looked to rebound from a lackluster effort in their second game of their matchup with the Chicago Blackhawks in a pivotal game three in the Bridgestone Arena. The task before them: shut down the potent Hawks offense and generate offensive chances that challenged Antti Niemi. More importantly, bury those chances.
The Nashville Predators played a full 60 minute game, defeating the Chicago Blackhawks 4-1 to take a 2-1 series lead in the first round contest against a putative Stanley Cup favorite.
In the Predators first home playoff game, the intensity was evident from the start. Penalties were handed out in abundance- mostly to Chicago- for elbowing and roughing. The Predators showed early on that they would match the physicality of the Blackhawks and dish it out just as well as they were taking the hits.
The difference was that Nashville would and could be more physical throughout the night without taking unnecessary penalties.This was important as the Predators could not afford to put the potent Hawks power play on the ice. For the night, Nashville took four penalties and killed three of them.
Just :49 seconds after a Hawks penalty had ended, Joel Ward got the Predators on the board as he batted home a rebound of a Steve Sullivan shot over the pads of Niemi to give the Predators a 1-0 lead a t 13:00 of the first period. As Coach Trotz said after the game, each night a new hero has stepped up to play a major role for the Predators. Tonight, that early hero was Wardo, who broke through for the Predators.
Chicago would tie the game at 1 just :15 seconds into a power play as Tomas Kopecky scored at 17:35 of the first with a backhand off a rebound that beat Nashville netminder Pekka Rinne. Rinne had survived some early scares in the period, nearly turning the puck over as he played it on a power play. Rinne was victimized on the power play, however, and despite some quality saves, the Predators found themselves tied with the Hawks at the end of the first period.
The start of the second period was going to be important for the Predators. It was important not to let Chicago seize momentum and take control of the game. Rinne, and the defense in front of him, were solid throughout the period. They limited the scoring chances for Chicago, and when the Hawks had opportunities, Rinne cleaned up. The Predators did an especially good job of thwarting the speed of the Blackhawks through the neutral zone, and as they did in the first game, frustrated the potent offensive attack that Chicago can bring.
The question for the Predators was could they generate offensive chances, and more importantly, could they finish? The answer? A resounding "Yes"!
David Legwand scored at 4:00 of the second as Kevin Klein gained control of the puck along the boards in the defensive zone and flipped the puck out to Steve Sullivan. Sullivan used his speed to drive down the ice into the offensive zone, where he saw David Legwand streaking to the net. Sullivan sent a beautiful pass to Legwand, who tipped it past Niemi for the game winner. Legwand did a great job settling down a bouncing puck to pot the goal.
The Predators would extend their lead to 2 goals as Shea Weber unleashed a patented blast from the blue line that hit Marian Hossa's stick and went through Niemi five hole for the score at 9:52.
Leading 3-1 going in to the third, the Predators knew that the Blackhawks would attempt to exert their will, and this would be a test of character. The Predators passed this test with flying colors as Rinne made some great saves and the defense did a great job of shutting down the Hawks attack. The Predators exerted their will. They took the body. They were more physical. The fact is that the Predators wanted this game more than the Blackhawks.
The important aspect of the third period was that the Predators did not take their foot off the gas offensively. They continued to press the attack, and the result was Martin Erat getting hooked down by Dustin Byfuglien on a breakaway. A penalty shot was awarded to Erat, and he buried the shot high glove side to extend the Predators lead to 4-1 at 14:25 of the the period.
The Predators shut down the Hawks for the remainder of the game, and for the first time in the history of this franchise, the Predators had a series lead 2-1.
This was a solid 60 minutes of hockey by the Predators. They were sound in all zones and got outstanding goaltending from Rinne. They kept up the attack throughout the game and refused to yield to the physical pressure of the Hawks.
This was Predator hockey.
The Predators should expect the Hawks to come out in game 4 with desperation. They should expect another physical game. The expectations on the Blackhawks are off the chart. They are fearful of disappointing.
It will be incumbent on the Predators to continue to play disciplined, sound hockey. It will be imperative that the Predators take the punch that Chicago will deliver and respond. Expect the challenge. Be prepared for battle.
It will be a war.
And this is a war that you can win, boys. No one expected you to be here. No one gives you a chance. No one believes that you can do it.
Except those guys in the Predators locker room. And your fans.
This is your time. Take advantage of the the pressure on Chicago. Take the attack to them. Take it back to Chicago with a 3-1 lead.
And prove the experts wrong.