Predators staying confident after Game 3 loss to Blackhawks


Predators staying confident after Game 3 loss to Blackhawks

Despite coming out of Game 3 down by one in the series, the Nashville Predators felt they did a pretty good job keeping things even with the Blackhawks a majority of Sunday's game.

Leading into the second period, the Blackhawks and Predators exchanged both quality scoring chances and goals, so much so that the Blackhawks held two separate leads for only a combined 53 seconds before Nashville answered back.

But two more goals from Chicago in the second proved to be the difference-maker; goals the Predators said resulted from puck-management issues on their end.

"Tip the cap to them," defenseman Cody Franson said following Nashville's 4-2 loss. "They played well, they played a fast game all night. A lot of what they got came from us trying to do something a little extra. Not keeping it simple. Puck management's big against these guys. With that amount of skill they have up front, it's paramount to manage the puck well."

[SHOP: Gear up, Blackhawks fans!]

The Predators arrived in Chicago with a tall task at hand considering their captain and all-star defenseman Shea Weber didn't make the trip after suffering an injury in Game 2.

Prior to Sunday's contest, the Predators went 1-4-2 in the absence of Weber over the last two seasons, allowing 29 goals over the span of seven games.

And in a game where the Blackhawks' top guys were putting on such strong performances — after Andrew Desjardins' opening goal, Jonathan Toews, Brandon Saad and Brent Seabrook each found the back of the net — Weber's absence could be especially felt.

"Any time you lose a guy like [Weber], that's a big loss for us," Franson said. "But we have a good group of guys in here. We've got guys that are very capable and guys that are very bought in to try to pick up that slack and extend our run here as long as possible. I thought we did a lot of good things tonight, but a couple small pockets where we didn't manage the puck well and they were able to create some offensive zone time and capitalize on a couple of chances."

[MORE: Darling stays hot after Game 3 win]

Nashville's new makeshift top defensive pairing of Roman Josi and Seth Jones had been on the ice for three of the Blackhawks' four goals, but the Predators said they're still confident they have enough depth to thrive even while Weber is out.

"I thought [the defense] was pretty good," head coach Peter Laviolette said. "I thought we had a pretty good game defensively, there were times I thought they controlled their offensive zone — our defensive zone — that's gonna happen at times. I think you have to hang in there and play defense. I thought our guys did that. Certainly would rather have Shea, but that's not an option."

The Predators were still able to take a lot of positives out of Sunday's game despite the final outcome. They're confident in each others' ability to step up in the absence of Weber and will look to improve their puck management by keeping their game simple moving forward.

Now their focus is on tying the series back up in Game 4.

"We don't want to go home down two and have ourselves in that situation if we can help it," Franson said. "The next game's a big game. There's no right or wrong way to win a playoff series as long as you win it at the end."

2019 NHL Draft Profile: C Jack Hughes

NBC Sports

2019 NHL Draft Profile: C Jack Hughes

From June 10-20, Charlie Roumeliotis will profile one top prospect per day — 11 total — leading up to the 2019 NHL Draft as the Blackhawks prepare to pick third overall.

Jack Hughes

Position: Center
Height: 5-foot-11
Weight: 170 pounds
Shoots: Left

Scouting report from draft expert Adam Kimelman:

The most talented player in the draft should be the first one selected. The 18-year-old has a package of skating, passing, vision and hockey sense that's reminiscent of Blackhawks forward Patrick Kane."

NHL player comparable: Connor McDavid/Patrick Kane

Fit for Blackhawks:

Listen, we know. Hughes isn't going to be on the board at No. 3. But let's dream just for one minute because when the Blackhawks jumped into the top-three on lottery night, the thought crept into everyone's minds.

Hughes is one of the most talented players to ever come out of the United States National Development Program, and is the most pro-ready out of any prospect in this year's draft. He could step onto an NHL team tomorrow and play in a top-six role seamlessly. 

Stylistically, Hughes' game is reminiscent of McDavid and Kane: A playmaker, goal scorer, smooth skater, unreal vision, high hockey IQ. He is the complete package. And just wait until he adds some muscle to his frame under the care of an NHL organization.

If the Blackhawks landed the No. 1 overall pick, their center depth for the next 7-8 years could've consisted of Hughes, Dylan Strome and Jonathan Toews. Alright, now back to reality. 

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GM Stan Bowman: Blackhawks 'unlikely' to trade out of No. 3 overall spot

GM Stan Bowman: Blackhawks 'unlikely' to trade out of No. 3 overall spot

The 2019 NHL Draft is 48 hours away from now and the Blackhawks are slated to pick third overall for the first time since 2006 when they took Jonathan Toews. Coincidentally, that draft happened to be in Vancouver. 

The Blackhawks are sitting in a unique spot this time around.

The consensus is that Jack Hughes and Kappo Kakko will go first and second overall, respectively, which essentially puts the Blackhawks in a position where they have the first overall pick in a different draft. There's a large group of players to choose from and there doesn't appear to be much separation amongst them.

So would the Blackhawks consider trading out of the No. 3 spot if a team wants to make the jump and the Blackhawks feel good about their player being on the board a few picks back?

"That’s a tough question to answer because it's not like we have a magic formula that we’re waiting for some to call and offer us," GM Stan Bowman said on Wednesday during his pre-draft conference call. "If somebody made a really appealing offer then we’d have to consider it, but that hasn’t happened yet. If it does, then as a group we’ll talk about it. That’s one of those things where a team has to want to put together a really appealing package to move up. It’s happened before, pretty rare though. So I wouldn't say it's out of the realm, but it’s unlikely to happen."

All signs point to the Blackhawks keeping their pick at No. 3, as expected. And it sounds like they already know who it's going to be, which isn't surprising considering the Blackhawks have done extensive research on the prospects — both on and off the ice — for months now.

The Blackhawks staff met on Wednesday a group, they'll meet again on Thursday, and then one more time on Friday before the draft to finalize their list. At this point, it's more about ironing out the later rounds.

"It’s more just fine-tuning the list," Bowman said. "We have more than just one pick in the draft. We’re looking at players we think are going to be around in the second round, and then we don’t have a third-round pick right now so there’s a bit of a gap there between our 43rd and then the two picks in the fourth round. So we have to look at that and determine which players we’re going to target for those rounds. I wouldn’t say there’s anything new that's being discovered at this time of year.

"We’re not going to be cramming last minute. I think we’re going to be very comfortable with the guy we pick when we get to Friday night."

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