NASHVILLE, Tenn. – The Blackhawks had finally broken through Pekka Rinne. Twice. They had their first goals of the series. They had their first lead of the series.
But after taking the initiative in the second period the Blackhawks went more into a defensive mode again. Against the Nashville Predators, who have shown they’ll take advantage of any chance, hop or bounce they get, it was an opportunity.
Now the Blackhawks are on the brink of elimination.
Patrick Kane scored his 50th career postseason goal but the Predators came back, with Kevin Fiala getting the overtime winner to beat the Blackhawks 3-2 on Monday night. The Predators take a commanding 3-0 series lead; they’ll have their first chance to eliminate the Blackhawks in Game 4 on Thursday night.
The Blackhawks were subdued after this one. Save a period or so, the Predators have outplayed the Blackhawks in these three games. Now the desperation is at an all-time high.
“Yeah, it’s not easy. It’s not easy. It’s a good team and they want it. They’re pushing themselves to the limit. But we have no choice. We’ve got to find a way to put pressure on them,” Jonathan Toews said. “We’ve got to make them realize that winning that fourth game is the toughest for any team in any series. We can be that team to try and frustrate them and put pressure on them, especially in their own building in the next game. You never know what can happen, so we’ll just focus on winning the next one.”
The Blackhawks had a 2-0 lead after two, thanks to goals from Kane and Dennis Rasmussen, whose first career postseason goal snapped the Blackhawks’ postseason scoreless streak at 177 minutes, 45 seconds. The 2-0 lead after two is edge that usually meant a victory for the Blackhawks in recent years. But nothing about this Blackhawks postseason has been typical, and just over 14 minutes into the third period, thanks to two Filip Forsberg goals, they were tied 2-2.
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“We got that 2-0 lead that was nice to have and even worse to give up,” Kane said. “They kind of took over in the third, we kind of sat back. They had way more chances than we did in overtime. It would’ve been nice to have a little pushback there, especially after it was tied up.”
Coach Joel Quenneville saw it a bit different, although he still saw a big shortcoming with the Blackhawks.
“I think even parts of the first two periods, our puck management tonight wasn’t as good as it had to be. It got us in trouble on a couple of plays but all three [Nashville goals] were pretty innocent how they materialized and turned into goals,” he said. “We didn’t give up many chances over 60 minutes and overtime but we didn’t generate much at the end because we didn’t keep the puck, put it in good areas or win enough puck battles. It might have come down to that.”
Playoff goals can be different, and the Predators’ third-period ones were. The puck caromed high off the glass behind the net and bounced in front, where Filip Forsberg punched it in. Ten minutes later it was Forsberg again, tying it 2-2. The Blackhawks challenged for goaltender interference but video review ruled it a good goal.
Crawford, who stopped 46 of 49 in the loss, didn’t have much to say about the wonky first goal or the challenged second one.
“I don’t know. The game is over,” he said to both. He was more vocal regarding the Blackhawks’ current state.
“I felt pretty good but there were some tough breaks on the goals. I think everyone is a little pissed off and a little angry. We should be,” he said. “We haven’t played our best hockey yet so it’s time.”
It has to be time. The Blackhawks haven’t put together a 60-minute game yet this postseason. They really haven’t come close. Maybe you can compare this to deficits in the past but, at the same time, times change. Personnel changes. Situations change. Can the Blackhawks come back from this?
“We’re going to have to,” Quenneville said.