The Blackhawks left Colorado not thrilled with the end to their regular season but certainly not demoralized by it either.
“We’ll be fine: get to practice and get excited about Monday (is) where we’re at,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “All four games, tight games, comparable losses.”
The Nashville Predators were probably feeling the same way, given they went winless in their last six regular-season games (0-4-2). The Blackhawks’ problem was they couldn’t score goals. The Preds’ problem was they couldn’t stop opponents from scoring them.
But as the two teams get set to meet in their first-round matchup later this week, the question is obvious: Which team shakes its late regular-season doldrums first?
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The Blackhawks soon head to Nashville, where they’ll face the Predators in Game 1 on Wednesday and Game 2 on Friday. After another loss to end to the regular season on Saturday — a 3-2 loss to the Avalanche — the Blackhawks sounded relatively upbeat and ready to start the postseason.
Still, they know facing the Predators, who they haven’t seen since Dec. 29, won’t be easy. The Blackhawks have struggled to score goals, managing just five in their last four games. Now they get to try and solve Pekka Rinne.
“Obviously, the last four or five games here we haven’t scored enough goals, and it’s not going to be easier playing against Nashville,” Niklas Hjalmarsson said. “We have to find a way to get people in front of the net more and get more rebounds and just more shots and just work him that way.”
For the Predators, giving up goals has been the problem. Whether it’s defense or Rinne, the numbers haven’t been good. Rinne gave up 14 goals in his last four regular-season starts, in which he went 0-2-2.
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So how much do late regular-season losing streaks affect a team? Quenneville said it doesn’t matter much at all.
“It starts fresh,” he said of the postseason. “Everything’s even.”
Well, maybe for some teams that’s true. Take the Los Angeles Kings last year, who went 1-2-2 down the stretch, lost the first three games to San Jose in the first round, then took off and won their second Stanley Cup in three seasons. Then there are last year’s St. Louis Blues, who dealt with injuries and a poor late-season record heading into the playoffs. They took the first two games from the Blackhawks, thanks to comebacks late in each contest, but then lost the next four.
If postseason experience is any benefit, the Blackhawks have plenty. Much like the Kings, they’ve usually saved their best for this time of year, regardless of how that last part of the 82-game schedule went. In facing a revamped Nashville team that’s hungry to become a playoff threat, the Blackhawks will need to tap into that same mindset now.
Neither the Blackhawks nor the Predators got the desired results these last few games. As Quenneville said, however, the slate is clean. Now we’ll see which team starts writing the more successful playoff story.