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."

Blackhawks Talk Podcast: Blackhawks offense finally opens things up as Patrick Kane starts streaking

USA Today

Blackhawks Talk Podcast: Blackhawks offense finally opens things up as Patrick Kane starts streaking

On the latest Blackhawks Talk Podcast, Pat Boyle and Charlie Roumeliotis break down the changes made to the Hawks defensive zone coverage (1:50) and Patrick Kane’s current points streak (7:30). They also discuss how most of the players that have been scratched recently have had bounce-back efforts (11:20), as well as the improved play of Erik Gustafsson (18:12) and both special teams units (20:16). Plus, the debut of “Checkpoint Charlie," where Charlie gives us a taste of life on the road and his encounter with Chris Rock’s brother (29:00).

Listen here or in the embedded player below. 


Blackhawks Talk Podcast


Jeremy Colliton explains schematic change and why Blackhawks made it

Jeremy Colliton explains schematic change and why Blackhawks made it

The Blackhawks made a schematic change after their four-game road trip and they've seen the benefits of it immediately. They're 2-0-1 in their past three games and have scored 12 goals over that stretch.

We broke down on Monday what changes were made systematically and how it has freed up the offense, but head coach Jeremy Colliton elaborated on it Tuesday and explained the reasoning behind the decision.

"All it is is, our weak side forward, we pushed him up higher in defensive zone coverage," Colliton said. "Before, we had four low a lot of times, to try and overload in certain situations. That's good, it gets you out of D-zone, but the problem is when you win the puck back, a lot of times you're very close together and it's harder to make clean plays, it's harder to exit with space to make plays. So we were having trouble entering the zone.

"There's been a lot of talk about how we have been dumping too many pucks in. Well, we're not trying to dump the puck in, but when you're attacking and you don't have numbers, you don't have space in behind, you have to, you're forced too. I think we're doing a much better job of getting from D-zone clean, because we have a forward a little bit higher, there's a little more space, it happens quicker. And then I think we've done a good job with the low three [of] someone jumping by and then we can create a little bit more space off the rush and we don't have to chip it in. We can enter clean, make some plays and I think the guys are doing very well."

Patrick Kane, who has erupted for seven points (four goals, three assists) in the past three games since the change, sees the change opening up more opportunities for the Blackhawks on offense.

"I think a lot of us probably stressed that there wasn't as much flow to it, for whatever reason that was," Kane said. "They made a change and all of a sudden it seems like we have more options coming out of our end, we have more motion, more speed coming out of our end, which is always a good thing."

The Blackhawks' dump-in rate, as Colliton noted, has been much higher this season and it’s noteworthy because they generated a lot of their offense off the rush last season from mid-December and on. But what we didn’t know was the exact reason why the Blackhawks altered the way they entered the offensive zone.

Aside from the obvious answer of cutting down on neutral zone turnovers and limiting the amount of odd-man rushes against, Colliton notes the Blackhawks were forced to dump it in more because they weren’t entering the zone with numbers. The defensive scheme didn’t really allow them to.

But with the recent fundamental change, the Blackhawks have more options to exit their own zone cleanly, pick up speed through the neutral zone and do what they do best: by carrying the puck in and having more freedom to create offense. It’s something the coaching staff and players discussed with each other, and the consensus is it will maximize the talent of this group.

"We kind of felt it was time," Colliton said. "I mean, we're always talking with them for sure and guys, they want to score more. They want to produce, guys want to make plays. And so we're just trying to find the balance. We want to continue to work on being good defensively, but we've got to score more than them. I think we can still hold onto those defensive gains we've made and score more goals."

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