Predators 'will not go away quietly' after Game 4 loss


Predators 'will not go away quietly' after Game 4 loss

The visiting locker room inside the United Center was dead silent early Wednesday morning. 

After 101 minutes of play in Game 4 against the Blackhawks, the Nashville Predators sat at their stalls at the end of their longest game in team history, only to pack up after a disappointing loss that left them down 3-1 in their opening-round playoff series.

"We were in it. It was a fun game," Craig Smith said. "We played hard. Just sucks."

[MORE: Blackhawks win triple-OT thriller over Predators in Game 4]

The players were exhausted by the time Brent Seabrook's game-winning goal went in to end Tuesday's triple-overtime contest. And like the previous three games in the series, the Predators felt they were right in it with the Blackhawks, only to miss out on a look that Chicago managed to capitalize on.

"I thought we did all the right things," Smith continued. "We had a lot of emotion on our bench, we were fired up. These types of games there are going to be funny bounces so that's why you shoot. We had some really good looks, we had the chance to put the puck in the net but just couldn't quite get it."

The Predators took the lead in the first period off a goal from Colin Wilson, but it took Antoine Vermette just over a minute to score his first goal with the Blackhawks to tie things up. 

The Predators then managed to use second period to their advantage after being outscored 18-4 during that frame in their last 10 contests. James Neal found the back of the net, closing out a strong 40 minutes for Nashville before the Blackhawks outplayed them in the third.

"I think we played two really good periods," Roman Josi said. "In the third we sat back a little bit and they came at us. But even in OT we had our chances. They had their chances too, but just didn't go our way.

[SHOP: Gear up, Blackhawks fans!]

"We have to play the same way as we did for two periods today. I thought we were the better team the first two periods. We were up 2-1. We just have to come out with a lot of energy, these games are so tight. Little mistakes are going to burn you so we have to limit those."

After such an emotionally-charged game, the Predators couldn't help but feel tremendous disappointment. But they're confident that a return to Nashville could be just the boost they need to get the series back to Chicago.

A 3-1 deficit is a tough pill to swallow, but the Predators have no doubt that they'll be ready to bring their best performance for their most important game of the season on Thursday.

"Eventually the sun will come up tomorrow," head coach Peter Laviolette said. "Our guys are resilient. They will not cave. And they will not go away quietly. So they'll be ready to play Game 5, I promise you."

Four takeaways: Brandon Saad breaks out in strong bounce-back performance by Blackhawks

Four takeaways: Brandon Saad breaks out in strong bounce-back performance by Blackhawks

Here are four takeaways from the Blackhawks' 3-1 win over the Anaheim Ducks at the United Center on Tuesday:

1. Brandon Saad's breakout game

After turning in one of his best efforts of the season on Sunday against Tampa Bay, the Blackhawks rewarded Saad with a promotion to the top-six again. And he took advantage of that opportunity.

In the first period alone, Saad recorded four shots on goal, scored his first of the season on the power play, drew a penalty and had a takeaway in 7:42 of ice time, which led all forwards. He finished with nine shot attempts (a season-high seven on goal) and 18:56 of ice time.

On his power-play goal, Saad battled for position in front of the net, called for the puck and scored on his second effort. He did all the right things and got rewarded, including on the empty-netter that sealed the victory.

"I've had some chances, especially as of late," Saad said. "But it's definitely nice for them to get in and get a win on top of that."

Said coach Joel Quenneville: "He was excellent tonight. ... I thought he had great speed all over the ice, had the puck way more. We’re happy for him. Big factor in the win."

2. Erik Gustafsson's slap-pass becoming a thing

For the second time this season, Gustafsson contributed to a game-winning goal that involved a fake shot and slap-pass from the point. Patrick Kane was the recipient of the cross-ice pass and buried home the one-timer from the right faceoff circle

"I can’t score by myself, so it’s better to pass it," Gustafsson joked. "No, I know Kaner is out there. He’s always getting open when someone else has the puck so it’s easy to find him and there was one guy in front of me so I wanted to pass it."

3. Blackhawks cut down on high-danger chances

On Sunday against Tampa Bay, the Blackhawks allowed 25 high-danger chances at even strength. It put them at the very bottom of the league for most on average per game, ironically falling below Anaheim.

Through two periods on Tuesday, the Blackhawks allowed zero and only five at 5-on-5 for the entire game. Certainly a 180 from two nights ago, and an area they will continue to build upon.

"We just took away those quality chances," said Corey Crawford, who made 24 saves and picked up his first win at home since Dec. 17, 2017. "I don't think they really had too many where they had time in front of the net to really think about where they wanted to shoot and our guys were on the right away in the middle of the ice and that'll give you a great chance to win a hockey game."

4. Special teams battle

There were a total of 20 penalty minutes (10 for Anaheim, 10 for Chicago), which meant lots of power play opportunities and not as much even-strength time.

The Blackhawks had four of them in the first period, and converted on the second try when Saad scored his first of the season. The penalty killed went 4-for-4, allowing a combined eight combined shots on goal but limiting the quality chances.

Blackhawks assign Anton Forsberg to Rockford after clearing waivers

Blackhawks assign Anton Forsberg to Rockford after clearing waivers

Anton Forsberg cleared waivers on Tuesday morning and was assigned to the Rockford IceHogs in the American Hockey League.

That's good news for the Blackhawks organizational depth chart, with Forsberg as the No. 3 in goal. But it also complicates things in Rockford, where Collin Delia and Kevin Lankinen have been sharing the duties.

Delia is 3-1-0 with a 3.26 goals against average and .910 save percentage while Lankinen is 0-1-1 with a 3.39 GAA and .825 save percentage. Perhaps the most likely scenario is Lankinen gets sent to the ECHL with the Indy Fuel while Delia and Forsberg split the load in Rockford.

It's certainly a good problem to have, but it's still unclear how that dynamic will play out.

"We haven’t talked about that," coach Joel Quenneville said. "But we expect [Forsberg] to play."

Luke Johnson recalled

With a spot opening up on the 23-man roster, Johnson is being brought back up after he was squeezed out by Corey Crawford's return. He had a goal and an assist in two games with Rockford.

Brandon Saad returns to top-six role

After turning in arguably his best performance of the season on Sunday, Saad is back playing on the second line with Artem Anisimov and Patrick Kane. He had seven shot attempts (three on goal) against Tampa Bay and led the team in 5-on-5 possession numbers.

"[Saad] is coming off a game where we liked what we saw," Quenneville said. "Playing with Kaner can help him get going."

Nick Schmaltz to play right side for first time in NHL career

Eight games into the season and Schmaltz has spent time at both center and left wing. Now he'll get a look on the right side with Alexandre Fortin on the left and David Kampf centering the third line.

Part of the reason for Schmaltz’s move to the right side was because Quenneville said they like Fortin on the left. It's not unfamiliar territory for Schmaltz, but could take some time getting used to.

"I played a little while back, not sure when," Schmaltz said "Just a little bit different. Catching pucks on your forehand now instead of your backhand. It's not a huge adjustment, just play with speed and compete hard and hopefully the skill on our line will take over."