Despite taking 2-0 series lead, Predators know Blackhawks are 'not going to go away'

Despite taking 2-0 series lead, Predators know Blackhawks are 'not going to go away'

After blanking one of the best teams in the league on their home ice to open the playoffs, the Predators knew Game 2 would present an even greater challenge.

The expectation was the Blackhawks, who have won three Stanley Cups since 2010, would push back like they've consistently done over the last decade during those deep spring runs.

But it was the Predators who brought a much better effort Saturday night, stunning an entire city with a 5-0 victory to take a commanding 2-0 series lead back to Nashville.

To some degree, it even surprised them.

"I don’t think I would have planned for that," coach Peter Laviolette said after the game about picking up a pair of shutouts in the first two games. "They are a good hockey team, they are kind of the benchmark. ... You know what they’re capable of, the core remains the same, they are well-coached. That was not the game plan coming in here."

The Predators became the fifth team in NHL history to begin a playoff campaign with consecutive road shutouts, joining the 1936 Detroit Red Wings, 1983 Buffalo Sabres, 1995 New Jersey Devils and 2001 Toronto Maple Leafs, according to the NHL's PR staff.

It was also the first time the Blackhawks have lost consecutive home playoff games since 2002 against the St. Louis Blues, per CSN's stat guru Chris Kamka.

The Blackhawks have seemingly been through it all, including the highs and the lows. But they've never lost two straight home games to open a playoff series under Joel Quenneville, sending them into oblivion, a state you almost never see them in.

"That was frustration to a different level," Quenneville said. "That wasn't fun to watch. We dug ourselves a tremendous hole. Across the board, not too many positives came out of tonight's game. Everybody was responsible, from the coaches down to every single player. We need to get out of this mess and hole. We can play much better than that in all areas, in all aspects. We're a better hockey team than we showed tonight."

Give credit to the Predators.

For the second straight game, they jumped on the Blackhawks early and stayed aggressive throughout the game. They continued to play their style, limited the high percentage shots allowed, and got better as the game went on.

Pekka Rinne pitched his third career playoff shutout — second this postseason — with a 30-save performance, and has stopped all 59 shots he's seen this series. He also added two assists in Game 2, which is two more points than the entire Blackhawks roster through two games this series.

Four Predators players (Ryan Ellis, Harry Zolnierczyk, Colton Sissons and Kevan Fiala) scored their first career postseason goals in the victory, showing how valuable a four-line rotation is at this time of year.

"Yeah, that's the coaches mindset right now," Zolnierczyk said. "To stick with that team is to have four lines that can play. He can kind of roll four lines, regardless of who they put on the ice. We're comfortable enough facing whoever they have out there. Obviously the playoffs are a long haul, and to have four lines I think will be beneficial down the line."

The Predators have been in this position before, though, and know the job is far from over. They stole two road victories in Anaheim last year in the first round, but the Ducks fought back by pushing it to seven games before Nashville completed the series.

"I think we can learn a lot from what happened last year against Anaheim," Ellis said. "We need to keep on the gas, because this team’s not going to go away. They’ve proven time and again that they’re a championship team for a reason, and we have to keep on the gas.”

The Blackhawks became a perennial Stanley Cup contender by how they've finished series' not necessarily by how they've started.

With Saturday's loss, they slipped to 44-42 in Games 1-4 under Quenneville. But in Games 5-7? They're 32-8, proving just how difficult they will be to put away.

"Any time you're playing the Chicago Blackhawks and you have an opportunity to be up 2-0 in the series, you'll take that obviously," Zolnierczyk. "But there's a lot of work to be done here still. We're gonna have to head back to Nashville and prepare for Game 3."

Why Ryan Hartman is betting on himself going into another contract year with Predators


Why Ryan Hartman is betting on himself going into another contract year with Predators

Ryan Hartman has been through this before. Back in December of 2012, he sustained a torn labrum in his right shoulder but played through it because the Plymouth Whalers were in the middle of a playoff run. He waited until the offseason to have it surgically repaired and was cleared for contact just in time for him to attend his first training camp with the Blackhawks in September of 2013.

This time was a little different though.

Hartman had been acquired by the Nashville Predators at the trade deadline in exchange for prospect Victor Ejdsell and a 2018 first- and fourth-round pick — a hefty price to pay — in hopes of serving as an additional spark plug for a Predators team looking to load up for a second consecutive Stanley Cup run.

So when Hartman was brushed by Nathan MacKinnon along the boards, lost his footing and fell on his left shoulder late in Game 4 of the first round against Colorado, he immediately knew something was up.

"It didn't feel great at all," said Hartman, who went straight to the dressing room and had team doctors pop it back into place. "I finished the game and was able to finish playoffs in like a modified sling, which sucked to play with, but it's playoffs. It's one of those things where there are many guys playing through injuries and I was one of them."

Hartman, who's been rehabbing and training in Chicago, received the green light to fully participate in hockey-related drills last Monday but was advised to delay his Chicago Pro Hockey League debut for one more week just to err on the side of caution. On Wednesday, he got back into a game-type setting and "felt good" after 50 minutes of action going up against former teammates Alex DeBrincat and Patrick Kane.

Now he can fully focus on this upcoming season and amp up his on-ice training to a level he couldn't get to while recovering from shoulder surgery with training camp a month away.

Hartman was a restricted free agent this summer and recently re-signed with the Predators on a one-year deal worth $875,000. Clearly, he's betting on himself to bounce back to his rookie year form when he scored 19 goals and cash out on a larger paycheck down the line, even though he had multiple longer-term offers from the Predators.

"Yeah we talked, [GM David Poile] wants me to be there, I want to be there, we have a good relationship," Hartman said. "Obviously, he gave up a lot of stuff to take me and sees me in the future of the team and I see myself there too. There's a lot of little things that go into negotiations — if it's money wise or length — and there was a various amount [of offers] that was thrown out on both sides. With no [arbitration] rights, the best thing for me and my team was to bet on myself, take the year and go from there next year."

With that comes the pressure of having to earn another contract for the second straight year, which is also risky considering he's coming off an injury that sidelined him all summer. But that's just the way he wants it.

"Either way I want to play my best, if I have a contract or not for long-term," Hartman said. "There is the benefit of having security with long-term deals, but you see guys, in history, that sign these deals and maybe have a year or two of, not really being complacent, but just feeling satisfied. I don't like the feeling of being satisfied. I'm not saying that's why I took that contract over another contract, but it was a good month and a half of debating one of the other three [offers]. My family and my agent, we chose this was the best for me and the team as well."

It's easy to see why the Predators are happy with this deal, too. Hartman is better suited to play in a bottom-six role on a really good team but has the ability to play in the top-six if needed. A strong season out of him and they'll be happy to reward him with a longer-term offer next summer. It also means he'd be making an impact while making less than $1 million, and every contending team needs those contributions from their depth players.

Pull up the Predators' CapFriendly page and you'll notice generous contract after generous contract for a majority of their players, particularly their core group. Look no further than Ryan Ellis, who signed an eight-year extension on Tuesday that carries a cap hit of $6.25 million. He certainly left money on the table but elected to take less to follow the lead of everyone else in Nashville because the ultimate goal is to keep the band together.

"You look at Sidney Crosby, one of the best players in the league, isn't even making close to the most money in the league and that's a reason why they've won two Cups," Hartman said. "They have space, maybe not necessarily as much as the Preds do, but Poile's good at that, he's good at stressing winning, the importance of winning, and keeping a team together. Sometimes when you go year to year losing four or five players every summer, it takes a toll having to introduce yourself to new guys all the time. Keeping the same group is really beneficial."

The Predators won't have to do much introducing next month. They're essentially rolling back the same team that arguably would've reached the Stanley Cup Final if they had gotten past the Winnipeg Jets. Hartman will be an important part of that group, only this time he'll be there from the start.

"That's what I'm really excited for," he said. "It's tough coming in [halfway through the season], it kind of feels like ... it's your first time getting called up with the new team. You're adjusting, you're trying not to make a mistake, trying to earn a spot, per se, earn the respect of your peers, so having that and going through a playoff run and a Game 7, if you go through a Game 7 with anybody, it's a bond. The stuff you fight through and you play for each other, to be able to go through a training camp and the ups and downs throughout the whole season, it's going to be exciting. I fell in love with the group for the short time I was there and I'm excited to be there at the start of training camp."

Start of the Blackhawks Dynasty, Part 4: Roster overview

Start of the Blackhawks Dynasty, Part 4: Roster overview

In a 10-part series, we look back at the 10-year anniversary of the 2008-09 season, the start of the Blackhawks dynasty.

Starting a dynasty means you have to identify a group of core players to build your team around. Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Patrick Sharp and Jonathan Toews were those guys, along with Marian Hossa, who joined that mix later on.

You also need a mixture of young talent and strong veterans to fill out the depth to become successful. That's exactly what the Blackhawks had at the beginning of their dynasty and throughout.

On the first day of NHL free agency in 2008, the Blackhawks inked All-Star defenseman Brian Campbell to an eight-year deal, which solidified Chicago as a destination players wanted to commit to long term. That same year, Kris Versteeg emerged as the Blackhawks' third Calder Trophy candidate in two years, Martin Havlat and Andrew Ladd set a career high in points with 77 and 49, respectively, while youngsters Dave Bolland, Troy Brouwer and Dustin Byfuglien began to make a name for themselves as valuable pieces to the puzzle.

"Real good group of guys," Joel Quenneville said on Oct. 18, 2008. "I can say that it's the first time I walked in the room where, wow, I was impressed."

Six of the Blackhawks' Top 10 scorers in 2008-09 were aged 23 or younger. The average age for the other four? 27. The youth movement was real and they all contributed in a big way.