NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Four and out. On the losing end of a postseason sweep for the first time in more than 20 years. On Thursday the Blackhawks’ postseason, which began with so much promise after a 109-point regular season, ended with a thud.
Roman Josi scored twice and Pekka Rinne stopped 30 of 31 shots as the Nashville Predators beat the Blackhawks 4-1 at Bridgestone Arena. The Blackhawks were swept for the first time since the 1993 division semifinals.
“It was a major disappointment across the board,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “I don’t think any of the four games – there was a stretch in the second period where we might have been competing to the level that we needed in the playoffs. We had some stretches in maybe Game 1 and maybe in segments in all four games. Not good enough. I don’t think anybody exceeded their expectations. We don’t compete to the level that’s necessary. I take that personally, as a coach, that we didn’t find the all-out button, didn’t get the job done.”
In the Blackhawks’ locker room there were a myriad of feelings, all in the same range: shock, bewilderment, disappointment and frustration.
“Yeah, I think we probably all thought it was going to go a different way, especially with the regular season you have,” said Patrick Kane. “Coming into the playoffs, I think we felt pretty confident. So yeah, I mean, disappointing, shocked. I don’t know. Yeah. It’s going to be a long summer, for sure.”
Quenneville said it was on him to make sure the Blackhawks were ready for this series – “whatever buttons you have to push, to find a way to make it work, whether it’s lines or excitement,” he said on what he didn’t do. But ultimately it’s the Blackhawks players who didn’t come through. They couldn’t solve the Predators, who were strong from the start. They couldn’t stop the Predators in their end and they couldn’t score at the other. In four games the Blackhawks scored just three goals, and two of them were on the power play.
“A feeling of emptiness. We can’t lose like this,” Artemi Panarin, who went goal-less in the series, said through interpreter Igor Alfimov. “[The Predators] kept it simple. We couldn’t control the puck well. Their defensemen were able to get the puck, get it into the offense. We weren’t able to control.”
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Down 1-0 the Blackhawks made a push in the third period. But about nine minutes into the third the Predators started a push the other way, with Colton Sissons ringing one off the crossbar. The puck got caught under Corey Crawford and when he pushed back, the puck went in behind him to give the Predators’ a 2-0 lead. Josi, who put the Predators up 1-0 midway through the second period, would add his second of the night about 90 seconds later.
“Yeah, it’s tough every time you lose a game in a series like this. It’s tough to mentally battle back and find that confidence and get ready for the next one,” said Jonathan Toews, whose third-period goal was his first postseason tally since the 2015 Stanley Cup final. “I think every game they seemed to get better and better and just thrive off what happened the last game. Every single time we couldn’t start the game the right way. We’d get behind, start forcing offense and then it seems like every defensive breakdown or turnover we had they would come back our way. Odd-man rushes were going in against again. Just an uphill battle every which way.”
Once again the Blackhawks talked about being ready at puck drop. Once again, they weren’t. From the start the Predators looked like they wanted no part of a return trip to Chicago. They swarmed the Blackhawks once again and were looking from the early lead at every opportunity.
Toews scored with a little more than five minutes remaining in regulation but it was too little, too late. Viktor Arvidsson scored an empty-net goal with 1:48 remaining in the game.
The Blackhawks were a heavy favorite to come out of the West this postseason. They couldn’t even get out of the first round. The Predators outplayed them throughout and now the Blackhawks will have a long offseason for the second consecutive season.
“We always talk about not expecting to just turn on the switch when we get to the playoffs. Obviously we didn’t like the way we were playing going into the playoffs and maybe not necessarily the last three games even though we lost a couple on the road, I think the switch just didn’t turn on,” Toews said. “I’m not going to sit here and try and come up with those reasons right now. We’ll have some thinking to do in the next few days and we’ve got a lot of time before next season.”