Blackhawks unravel in third period, fall to Predators in Game 5


Blackhawks unravel in third period, fall to Predators in Game 5

NASHVILLE — The Blackhawks entered the third period tied 1-1 with the Nashville Predators, bending a few times but otherwise playing a solid road game.

But in the first three minutes of the third period, sloppiness crept back into the Blackhawks’ game. And against a Predators team that would do anything to extend its postseason, those three minutes proved very costly.

Filip Forsberg had a hat trick and James Neal had a goal and an assist as the Predators beat the Blackhawks, 5-2, at Bridgestone Arena on Thursday night. The Blackhawks, who still hold a 3-2 lead in the first-round series, will host the Predators in Game 6 at 7 p.m. on Saturday.

Brad Richards scored his first goal of this postseason, as did Kris Versteeg. Scott Darling suffered his first loss of this postseason, allowing four goals on 28 shots. It was a trying third period for all of the Blackhawks, including Darling, but coach Joel Quenneville wasn’t putting the onus on his goaltender.

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“I’m not blaming the goalie,” he said. “An open-side play, another one was a nice play on power-play goal, the other [goal] open side. It’s not the goalie at all.”

Asked if Darling will start Game 6 on Saturday, Quenneville said, “we’ll talk about it but [Darling] did everything right. He’s fine.”

Darling said he was fine after the game.

“You lose games sometimes,” he said. “That’s not how you want to start a period, me or the team. We’re just getting ready for the next game. That’s all there is to it."

The Blackhawks’ defense, however, was not fine to start the third period. The Predators scored three times in the opening three-plus minutes, beginning with James Neal’s wraparound goal 47 seconds into the period. That gave the Predators a 2-1 lead. Colin Wilson, who has been stellar against the Blackhawks, scored his fifth goal of the series — a power-play goal — to put Nashville up 3-1 at 3:02 of the third. Just 12 seconds after that, Forsberg scored his second on an odd-man rush for a 4-1 advantage.

“You feel like you’re in a good position to start the third, being tied at one, and obviously we gave up a quick goal, scored on the power play and faceoff right after. It was pretty quick to get yourself down like that and obviously not the start to the third we wanted,” said Patrick Kane, who assisted on Versteeg’s goal. “I think every goal they had, especially 5-on-5, we pretty much gave to them, either breakdowns or plays that we can’t really let happen.”

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Forsberg added his hat trick-earning goal, an empty-netter, with 11 seconds remaining in regulation.

“It was five minutes they won,” Darling said of the Predators. “And that was the difference.”

The Blackhawks knew they were going to get a fight from the Predators. They didn’t help their cause with shaky defense. Nashville wasn’t going to go quietly, and they capitalized on every error. The ball is back in the Blackhawks’ court and, in two days, their arena. They’re still confident they can close this series out on Saturday but they can’t have the lapses they did on Thursday.

“It’s one of those situations where you definitely want to win Game 6 in our building,” Kane said. “We have a great situation. If you told us we’d be up 3-2 heading back to our building for Game 6 we’d take that at the beginning of the series. We’re still in a great situation. We’ll move on and be ready come Saturday.”



Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks hit road to face Blue Jackets

NBC Sports Chicago

Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks hit road to face Blue Jackets

Here are Three Things to Watch when the Blackhawks take on the Columbus Blue Jackets tonight on NBC Sports Chicago and streaming live on the NBC Sports app. Coverage begins at 5:30 p.m. with Blackhawks Pregame Live.

1. One big reunion.

The Blackhawks will square off with the Blue Jackets for the first time since Oct. 7, which was the second game of the season. In that game, they won 5-1 led by Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Brandon Saad, each of whom scored a goal and added an assist.

Of course, that was the first game since the offseason trade that sent Artemi Panarin to Columbus and Saad back to Chicago, along with Anton Forsberg. Artem Anisimov, of course, was part of the original deal that sent Saad to Columbus in 2015, so there are a lot of emotional ties between the two teams.

Forsberg didn't get a chance to face the Blue Jackets in the first meeting, but there's a chance he will this time with it being the second of a back-to-back and Jean-Francois Berube getting the start in Friday's 3-1 win over San Jose.

2. Panarin and Kane bromance.

The emotions of a difficult break-up have probably died down by now, but Panarin and Kane gave us this moment at center ice during pregame warmups in their first game against each other and it hit Chicago right in the feels:

Panarin has spent enough time apart from Kane for people to realize how big of a star he is in his own right, leading the Blue Jackets in all three scoring categories: goals (17), assists (32) and points (49).

He hasn't gone more than three games this season without recording a point, and is looking to extend his point streak to four games, which would tie a season high.

3. Struggling Blue Jackets special teams.

The Blue Jackets got off to a great start but are barely clinging onto a wild card spot going into Saturday's game, and a big reason for that slide is their lack of success on special teams. Usually one can pick up the slack for the other, but they've been brutal in both departments.

The Blue Jackets are 0-for-9 on the power play in their past five games and are ranked 31st overall, converting on only 14.1 percent of their opportunities. They also have own the 27th-ranked penalty kill with a 76.3 percent success rate.

So if there's an area the Blackhawks can exploit, it's that. But, you know, still be mindful of that Russian winger's one-timer from the faceoff circle.

Jean-Francois Berube impressed in his first Blackhawks start


Jean-Francois Berube impressed in his first Blackhawks start

Jean-Francois Berube got his first start of the season on Friday night, and it couldn't have gone any better.

The 26-year-old goaltender stopped 42 of 43 shots, a career-high for him in saves, in the Blackhawks' 3-1 win over the San Jose Sharks at the United Center.

Since Corey Crawford went down with a head injury last December, the Blackhawks have been searching for consistency in the crease. 

The pair of Anton Forsberg and Jeff Glass — who was assigned to Rockford on Feb. 15 and replaced with Berube — have had their ups and downs since then. With the Blackhawks out of the playoff picture, Berube had an opportunity showcase his skills, and he didn't disappoint.

"We were very happy with him," said coach Joel Quenneville. "I thought he did a great job. He was comfortable. I thought he was very patient in his net. Absorbing a lot of pucks with people in front of him was good. Closed some gaps and got … of the top of the paint. Rebound control was effective. Nice response from a long absence."

Berube's last — and only — appearance with the Blackhawks prior to Friday's game came on Dec. 6, relieving Forsberg in a game against the Washington Capitals. He recorded 12 saves of 14 shots. 

When Crawford got injured, Berube was the primary candidate to become the team's backup goaltender. The only problem? He was injured too, so the Blackhawks promoted Glass.

"I didn't want to sit and think about it," Berube said of his injury. "At the same time, it was great for Glasser. He was one of those guys that probably deserved it earlier in his career and he finally got his chance. Sometimes you need a guy to go down to have your chance. So I was mostly happy for him.

On Friday night, he got his chance.

"You always want to have a good impression for your first game," Berube said. "I know what I can do at this level, so it was just a matter of getting the opportunity to play and showing people what I can do."

Celebrating his 22nd birthday, Nick Schmaltz also had a goal and an assist. Artem Anisimov scored an empty-netter.

"It's a lot more fun coming to the rink when you're winning, enjoying each other, playing well as a team," Schmaltz said of the Blackhawks' win, which have now won three of their last four games. "Hopefully we can keep that good energy and bring it to the rink every day, and build off of that.

"You never know where this team can go, a lot of great players, lots of guys that have had a lot of success. Hopefully we can continue to put together solid efforts."