It’s not how you start. It’s how you finish. And while the Blackhawks would love to start a hell of a lot better than they did on Saturday night, they’ll take the way it ended.
Duncan Keith’s goal with less than four minutes remaining pushed the Blackhawks past the Nashville Predators, 4-3, and sent them into the second round of the postseason. They’ll wait to see who they play and we’re guessing you’ll be watching Game 6 between the Minnesota Wild and St. Louis Blues on Sunday afternoon, too.
But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Before we make any Sunday plans, let’s take a look at the Five Things to take from the Blackhawks’ first-round-clinching victory over the Predators.
1. Duncan does it again.
Yes, he plays a ton of minutes and sometimes it shows in a gaffe here or there. But Duncan Keith’s ability to come through in those minutes is also evident. That lengthy sequence on which he scored the game-winner on Saturday was impressive. He faked twice as Predators defenseman Seth Jones challenged, and with Marian Hossa and Jonathan Toews setting screens, Keith came up big. As Quenneville said of Keith’s ability to play long and well, “as the game progresses, some guys get more taxed and get fatigued and decision making becomes poor. He’s just the opposite.”
2. Crawford gets another chance.
Corey Crawford did all the right things and said all the right things during his benching. And when Scott Darling got the hook at 11:16 of the first period, it was Crawford’s chance to get his game and confidence back. He didn’t have to stop many shots; the Blackhawks allowed just 13 the rest of the way. But he made the necessary big stops on the penalty kill and down the stretch when the Predators were looking for the equalizer. Said Hossa, “I’m sure he wasn’t too happy with the situation but when he was in there he was ready and strong for us. It was huge.” And it sounds like Crawford will start the second round, too.
3. Top guys bring top games.
You need your best players to come through in critical situations. Have a look at the score sheet for Game 6: Keith, Toews, Patrick Sharp and Patrick Kane were the Blackhawks’ goal-scorers. Saturday was the second time Keith’s had a game winner this postseason and Sharp and Toews each had their third of the playoffs. Said Kane, “whatever comes of it, whether it’s goals, good defensive plays, nice passes, whatever it may be, all of us are ready to play in these situations and have a lot of experience to play in these situations.”
[NBC SHOP: Get the latest Blackhawks gear here]
4. Kane is just fine.
Kane said he was a bit nervous of how he would feel when he got that first big hit on his surgically repaired left clavicle. Once he got it, absorbed it and felt fine after it, he shifted the focus back to his game. And his game is certainly looking good. Kane scored with just six seconds remaining in the first period and added an assist on Toews’ power-play goal.
5. Bravo, Nashville, for a fantastic series.
This was an entertaining one between these two, and full marks to the Predators for giving the Blackhawks everything they had. They started the series without Mike Fisher. They ended the series without stellar defenseman Shea Weber. And they just about forced a Game 7. The Predators are in a good situation and are going to be a handful again next season.