Duncan Keith was just looking for some space, any space through which to take a shot.
Much like in Game 1, the puck was with the Blackhawks defenseman at a critical time. And just like in Game 1, when Keith sent the Blackhawks home happy with a victory, on Saturday he sent them into the second round.
Keith scored with 3:38 remaining in regulation as the Blackhawks came back to beat the Nashville Predators, 4-3, in Game 6 of their first-round series on Saturday night. The Blackhawks won the series 4-2 and will await the winner of the Minnesota-St. Louis Series. The Wild lead the Blues 3-2 in their series; Game 6 is Sunday afternoon in St. Paul, Minn.
Corey Crawford returned to the net midway through the first period and stopped all 13 shots he saw for the victory. Patrick Kane, Patrick Sharp and Jonathan Toews also scored for the Blackhawks.
The Blackhawks looked like they could’ve scored a few times before they finally did get the winner. Then Jonathan Toews won a puck battle along the boards and passed back to Keith, who faked a shot, faked another shot, then fired past Pekka Rinne.
“We knew we had them on the run in their zone. I just wanted to be patient there and make sure on my shot, knowing they may be gassed there with the puck in their end,” Keith said. “I had some room to make a few fakes, try to get a lane — I think (Marian Hossa) was in the high slot — and just try to get it on net. I’m not sure [Rinne] saw it all the way.”
Crawford saw it from his end.
“Oh my God, that was probably one of the better games I’ve seen him play,” Crawford said of Keith. “That last play, that goal, that’s probably one of the better plays you’ll see from a defenseman. That was crazy. And before that the spin-o-ramas and it was just a great play by him, definitely.”
Keith getting the game-winner wasn’t the only similarity between Games 1 and 6. These two, outside of the first going to double overtime and this one ending in regulation, were near carbon copies of each other. The Blackhawks had a shoddy start to both. They started down in both — 3-0 in Game 1 and 3-1 through the first 11-plus minutes tonight. Their starting goaltender got pulled in both; Scott Darling, who came in for Crawford in Game 1, was pulled tonight after allowing three goals on 12 shots — oh, and that’s what Crawford allowed in that Game 1 first period. James Neal scored twice and Matt Cullen scored, prompting the change.
Crawford’s return was met with cheers from the United Center. It was also met with a better defensive performance. The Predators had 12 shots on Darling in the first 11:16 of the game. They had just 13 the next two-plus periods.
“I thought we were horrible to start the game, absolutely dreadful,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “We get beat 1-on-2, a 1-on-1… I wasn’t blaming the goalie. But it was easy to get Crow back in there.”
As the defense tightened, the offense opened up. Sharp scored to make it 3-1 not long before the goalie change. Toews’ power-play goal made it 3-2 Predators 58 seconds after Crawford entered the game. Then Kane scored to tie it 3-3 with just six seconds remaining in the first period.
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“It was a good faceoff and Duncs just left it on a tee for me there,” Kane said. “Big plays like that, when you score at the end of periods, you can get momentum. It definitely a good feeling to tie it up after the first.”
It was a better feeling to wrap this one up at home in Game 6. It wasn’t how the Blackhawks drew it up; they know they can’t start games like that. But they found a way to win in another adverse situation, much like they did in Game 1.
“[They are] something we can work on, obviously, our starts. That’s a mental thing more than anything,” Keith said. “We knew there was lots of time and we have confidence in our ability as a team. We showed that.”