As the regular season has come to an end, Last Word On Sports analyzes every playoff series. In the first installment, we take a look at the matchups in five categories: Offense, defense, goaltending, coaching and special teams. We also run down the players to look out for and give our final assessment on how the series will pan out. In the second portion, we will analyze what went down in the series, how the matchups led to the outcome and cover all important storylines.
The Chicago Blackhawks are off to the Western Conference semi-finals after eliminating the Nashville Predators in 6 games. With two teams who had marvellous regular seasons, only one can advance, and unfortunately for Predators fans it isn’t Nashville. The series had a chance of ending in game 5, however due to heroics from one young man, the Predators had the chance to take things to game 7, if they take game 6 in Chicago. Sadly for them and their fans, they could not overcome the Mad House. Here is our recap of Predators Versus Blackhawks
The Series: Predators Versus Blackhawks
Game 1: The Predators kicked off their post-season in grand fashion by finishing a first period, at home, up by a score of 3-0. Everything looked promising until the Blackhawks scored two powerplay goals in the second period, en route to tying up the game before the end of the period. Thanks to some fantastic goaltending from Scott Darling, who came in relief for Corey Crawford, the Blackhawks sealed it in overtime on a goal by Duncan Keith. Darling also set a record for most stopped shots by a relief goaltender without giving up a goal, during a playoff game.
Game 2: Wanting to give their fans something to cheer for, Nashville came back strong, pelting Crawford with 35 shots. Leading by a score of 3-2 after forty minutes and exchanging goals in the second, Craig Smith scored a pair of goals and Filip Forsberg put up two points, as the Predators enjoyed a three goal third period to put away Crawford and the Blackhawks by a score of 6-2. Colin Wilson also netted his third goal of the series. The game also got ugly in the final minute of play, as Andrew Shaw was ejected after receiving a ten minute misconduct.
Game 3: After two poor outings from Crawford, he became crawfish on the bench, forcing Joel Quenneville to go with Darling who stole game one away. The teams exchanged goals in the first period and then once more in the first minute of the middle frame, before Chicago scored two more unanswered goals after forty minutes. Darling shut the door for the final period, ending the game with 35 saves on 37 shots.
Game 4: The Blackhawks took a commanding 3-1 series lead in a thrilling triple overtime win. Down 2-1 heading into the third period, the Blackhawks got a goal from Brandon Saad, just past the halfway mark to tie the game. After no goals were scored in the first two overtime periods, it was Brent Seabrook‘s turn to work some magic as he put the game away in the third extra period. Darling once again came up huge, stopping 50 of 52 shots and was named the game’s first star.
Game 5: On the brink of elimination, the Predators got their fans jumping to their feet and celebrating on their way to a 5-2 victory. Darling, the hero of the previous two games, was stunned in goal, giving up three goals in the final period. Rookie Filip Forsberg had himself a wild night, scoring three goals and becoming the first player in Predators franchise history to notch a hat-trick in the post-season. Pekka Rinne also looked like his old self, stopping 30 of 32 shots.
Game 6: Hoping to stretch the series to seven games, the Predators got off to an early 3-1 lead in the first period, before they saw it slowly vaporize. Patrick Kane scored with two seconds left in the opening frame to tie it all up at three. The game remained even through forty minutes and with under four minutes left to play in the final period, Keith came up big again this series by putting up the Hawks 4-3. Crawford, who replaced Darling after the first period, shut the door on the Predators and came up big in the elimination of Nashville.
Storylines of the Series
Duncan Keith: The hero
The man who wrapped up game one with an overtime winner would score the eventual game winning goal in game 6 to end the series. Keith played 28 minutes in the final match and scored a goal, adding two assists and finishing with six shots on goal. The rugged defenseman ended the series with 7 points (2 goals, 5 assists), the same as forward Patrick Kane and just one point back of captain Jonathan Toews. Keith was also the most utilized player in game six, on either team.
The Darling/Crawford Story
Entering the post-season, the Blackhawks hoped to get the same heroics from Crawford provided them two years ago. Instead, the Chateauguay, Quebec native allowed three goals in the opening period of game one and was replaced by Scott Darling. Crawford would get his chance for redemption in game two but faltered, allowing 6 goals on 35 shots. This allowed Darling to get a chance at starting and the result was him taking games three and four, securing a 3-1 series lead. However in game five and six, Darling struggled. Crawford saw the net once again, replacing Darling in the first period of game six in a the reverse of what he had faced in game one, and led the Blackhawks to a thrilling 4-3 win. Now that the series is done, Coach Quenneville has the difficult task of deciding who starts in game one of the Western Conference semi-finals.
The Loss of Shea Weber
At 9:20 of the second period in game two, captain Shea Weber was hit by Brandon Saad and went down awkwardly. As he got up, he was unable to put any weight on his right leg. Diagnosed with a lower-body injury, the all-star defenseman was shut down for the remainder of the series, forced to watch from the sidelines. The move was a back-breaker, as the Predators relied heavily on his cannon of a shot and his reliable services in the defensive zone, playing on the top pairing. The injury forced coach Laviolette to go with Victor Bartley and relied heavily on youngster Seth Jones. While they struggled defensively, in both the defensive and neutral zones, the team still managed four goals on eleven powerplay chances.
Nashville’s Journey Ends
The goal for them Predators was to make it to the playoffs. After finishing six points out last season, thanks in part to goaltender Pekka Rinne going through injuries that took him out for a good chunk of the season, the Predators managed a top-3 finish in their division and a return to the post-season. Unfortunately for them, it would be the sixth time in eight playoff runs where the Predators would be eliminated in the first round. When asked about the game, and their success as a whole, coach Peter Laviolette responded with, “It’s probably a better question for another day. Coming off, you’re talking about a retrospect of the season. The objective was to get to this point, but that wasn’t the whole objective, so disappointing right now.”
The Blackhawks are now set to meet the winner of the St. Louis Blues and Minnesota Wild series. Game 6 of that match-up is set to take place this evening. Ironically enough, the Blackhawks eliminated both the Blues and the Wild in last year’s playoffs. The Minnesota Wild currently have the lead in the series, three games to two.
Series Predictions From Our Hockey Department:
Shawn Wilken: Blackhawks in 7 (1 of 2 correct)
Ben Kerr: Blackhawks in 6 (2 of 2 correct)
Dave Gove: Blackhawks in 6 (2 of 2 correct)
Matthew Ricks: Blackhawks in 5 (1 of 2 correct)
Charlie Clarke: Blackhawks in 6 (2 of 2 correct)
Tyler Shea: Predators in 7 (0 of 2 correct)
Ken Hill: Predators in 7 (0 of 2 correct)
Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images