With the exception of the early part of the second period, the Blackhawks not only skated with the Predators quite evenly tonight, but there were stretches of this game where they looked to have a lot more control than Nashville. This is the exact performance you needed against this Predators team coming out of the break. To the bullets:
– The early goings of this one were great for the Hawks, as they were able to control the puck and therefore the play a most of the first period. A good forechecking play from the Kampf line forced a turnover in deep that resulted in the titular character burying a quick and slick wrist shot past Jussi Saros, who had just turned the puck over. Taking a look at the Natural Stat Trick game flow the Hawks were +8 on shot attempts at 5v5 until Nashville started to take over a bit late in the frame. It was the exact start the Hawks needed in that building and getting that early goal was huge.
– The second period followed a similar flow but in the opposite direction. Nashville took control early, even notching a goal with a nice forechecking effort after a turnover by Anton Forsberg. The good news for Forsberg was that was pretty much the only bad play he made all night, and we’ll get to that. The Hawks were able to even things out and took the lead back later in the frame after Kane took a big hit to make a nice play, resulting in a rush with Schmaltz and My Cousin Vinnie. Schmaltz fed Hino with a nice pass, that Hino did not waste, one timing it through the Preds’ defenseman’s leg and then past Saros. That was the winner. The shot shares were even through the first two period, and Nashville dominated the third, but that was mostly score effects.
– More on Forsberg, because of course after I spend a whole bullet last Thursday talking about how he just isn’t reliable enough to keep this team afloat down the stretch and maybe they should look for a trade and yada yada yada, he turns in this gem of a game. 42 saves on 43 shots from a Nashville team that is no joke, only making the one aforementioned bad play, and doing everything else right. He was reading his angles well, tracking the puck well, and made a few big saves as Nashville turned up the attack in the third. He got some help from the post on one play, but nobody ever said you couldn’t be lucky AND good at the same time. I don’t know if I believe he can keep it up, but maybe writing for Sam’s site has resulted in me inheriting the powers of the Fels Motherfuck.
– Feather pointed this out on Twitter in the first intermisison, but Joel made some smart coaching adjustments in the first period to force Laviolette’s hand and minimize the last change advantage by double shifting his third and fourth lines. Lavi was keeping the Johanson line out against Toews, but Joel just left the Kampf line out there – and they were playing well, so it made sense – and forced Lavi to choose to either sit his top line or force himself into a mismatch.
– The biggest thing for the Hawks in this one was that they were so much more aggressive with their feet, which sounds kinda stupid but is just the reality. They skated hard the whole 60 minutes, which hasn’t been a theme this year for them. I’ve said for a while that the Q Hawks have a tendency to play to the level of their opponent, so they may have just elevated themselves against this Nashville squad, but it worked. They just need to figure out how to do this against every team every night if they’re going to go on the necessary run to make the playoffs.
– Popular opinion will tell you that the Predators are far and away a better team than the Hawks, and on paper it probably does look that way. And the sweep in last year’s playoffs certainly helps Nashville’s case. But these teams have split the season series now, with every game being decided by one goal. If Crawford is able to return before the playoffs, and if the Hawks make it – and both of those are rather large “if’s” – while this isn’t a matchup I’d necessarily ask for, it’s not one I’m afraid of either.
Line of the night: “Seabrook looks to clear, it’s taken away… this time – fails to clear again.” Foley’s starting to get it folks.