The Blackhawks were feeling pretty good about the first period of Game 2 on Friday night.
They had withstood the Nashville Predators’ early shot onslaught, giving up just one, and Patrick Sharp’s hard-working shift led to him tying the game a few minutes later.
Then it happened, a Roman Josi shot to give the Predators a 2-1 lead. That was tough enough. What was worse was it came with 3.6 seconds remaining in the first period. For the Predators, who were already playing well, it was the hockey equivalent of a B12 shot. For the Blackhawks, it was a kick to the gut. And it would happen again in the second period, albeit not quite as late.
“The two important shifts are late in periods, both the first and second. They tie it up and take the lead back,” Brad Richards said following the Blackhawks’ 6-2 loss in Game 2 of their first-round series. “We have to finish out the periods stronger. If we go in with 1-1, 2-2 tie going into those other periods, it might be a different story.”
Ultimately it was the Predators’ three-goal barrage in the third period that doomed the Blackhawks, who host Game 3 at 2 p.m. on Sunday. But those late-period goals do hurt. Josi’s was a killer. Craig Smith’s goal, which put the Predators up 3-2 with just over five minutes remaining in the second period, proved to be the game-winner.
“It’s tough,” Brent Seabrook said via conference call on Saturday. “Going in after the first period, you’re looking like you’ll get out of it with a 1-1 tie. Giving up that late goal is tough but all those things, you want to be out there in the last minutes of periods, for the starts of periods, for goals and goals against. But those are areas we have to be better in.”
The late-period goals are two examples of bigger issues the Blackhawks have had so far: despite the series being tied, the Blackhawks have given up too many prime opportunities in both games. Corey Crawford’s Game 2 struggles didn’t help but neither he nor Scott Darling have gotten much support. In two games, the Predators have fired 89 shots on Blackhawks goaltenders; 54 of those came in the double-overtime Game 1, but that is still a lot.
The Blackhawks are in the thick of this series, thanks in large part to Scott Darling’s tremendous performance in Game 1. He faced 42 shots in his relief outing, which was basically a game plus about eight minutes. The Blackhawks need to limit the Predators’ chances. They also have to make sure those late-period shots don’t become daggers.
“We have to continue to keep working as a team,” Seabrook said. “Nashville does a good job of making plays in the neutral zone, converging on the net with traffic and second opportunities. As a group, five men on the ice with our goaltender, we have to continue to get in lanes, putting sticks in front and moving bodies out. Nashville does a good job of converging and getting second opportunities. We have to limit those as best we can.”