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Chicago Blackhawks-Nashville Predators: Revisiting Game 1’s Huge Moments

By Colin Likas
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What a way to open the playoffs, huh? The Chicago Blackhawks looked completely mystified by the game the Nashville Predators were playing in the opening 20 minutes Wednesday, but they turned it around in the second period and eventually outlasted the Preds for a 4-3 double-overtime win.

In a game that lasted 87 minutes, 49 seconds, there were plenty of moments that had a huge impact on the result. Let’s take a look at some:

Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

Colin Wilson’s first goal, first period, 13:53 left: We should all be glad Michal Rozsival actually did play better after some horrible decision-making on this goal. Wilson was heading down one of the walls toward Rozsival and Duncan Keith, with no teammate in the immediate vicinity to take an easy feed. If Rozsival forces Wilson to the wall, the play might be over. But he skated toward the middle of the ice for reasons unknown, giving Wilson a quasi-breakaway on Corey Crawford. The shooter should never miss such attempts, and Wilson didn’t, making it 1-0 Nashville.

Viktor Stalberg’s goal, first period, 2:40 left: This is the only of the three goals that falls entirely on Crawford’s shoulders. Generally a fine puckhandler (better than Pekka Rinne), Crawford went behind his net to play a puck. He was waiting for either Keith or Rozsival to take a short feed, but Calle Jarnkrok instead arrived first. The puck eventually slipped out to ’Hawks castoff Viktor Stalberg, who wrapped it into an empty net. Crawford had to play this more quickly. As a goalie coming out of his net, he has to know where the friendly and enemy skaters are, and he did a poor job of realizing that here. You’d rather see a rocket down the boards for icing than the goalie getting into a board battle with a skater. Jarnkrok did a fantastic job not interfering with Crawford and just knocking the puck away, helping put Nashville ahead 2-0.

Wilson’s second goal, first period, 27 seconds left: The Preds had all the momentum between their second goal and the start of a late-period powerplay, caused by Kimmo Timonen bear-hugging a Predator to the ice (side note: Timonen also looked rough early, but he rebounded in his limited minutes). Niklas Hjalmarsson couldn’t clear the puck along the boards, and it was eventually cycled to defenseman Seth Jones. He let one go from a little above the circles, and it got a piece of Wilson on the way past Crawford. Pretty basic powerplay goal there, but it had ’Hawks fans feeling absolutely rotten, as the Preds went into the first intermission with a 3-0 advantage.

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  • Pulling Crawford, start of the second period. Fans will debate the reasons for Scott Darling taking over for Crawford after just 20 minutes Wednesday. Purely from an eye-test perspective, however, it appears the ’Hawks are more defensively sound and generally more aggressive in the offensive zone with a backup in net. Darling faced just four shots in the second period while the ’Hawks racked up three goals. Of course, Darling made some phenomenal saves (we’ll get to that later), but just the fact that their starting goalie had been lifted so soon in a playoff game seemed to wake up the ’Hawks. Turned out to be a smart move on coach Joel Quenneville’s part.

    Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

    James Neal’s stick and Hjalmarsson’s goal, second period, 18:17 left: The ’Hawks entered the period on a powerplay, which was quickly annulled by a rare penalty from Marian Hossa, creating some 4-on-4 action. Eddie Olczyk pointed out after Hjammer’s goal that Neal broke his stick blocking an earlier Hjalmarsson shot. With Neal more or less out of the play, Teuvo Teravainen’s sent a brilliant feed to a sneaky Hjalmarsson, who came in the back door and beat Rinne. Hjalmarsson disgustedly flipping Neal’s broken stick out of his way afterward was a game highlight on its own. But the ’Hawks now trailed by two, 3-1.

    Patrick Sharp’s goal, second period, 11:28 remaining. Usually when a team is trailing big and the refs start calling penalties on the opposition, they seem like nitpicky calls to try and make things closer on the scoreboard. Well, the Preds weren’t giving the refs much choice, making some silly and undisciplined plays to put the ’Hawks at a 5-on-3 edge. Real nice movement of the puck from the blue line to below the circles had Patrick Kane (welcome back!) find Sharp in front. He was stoned on his first shot but stuck with the rebound and beat Rinne while being taken to the deck. With plenty of time left, the ’Hawks trailed 3-2.

    Jonathan Toews’ goal, second period, 6:10 remaining. Another foolish Preds penalty put the ’Hawks on at an advantage. It was nice to see the ’Hawks cash in on a couple powerplay opportunities Wednesday, though Rinne would likely want the second tally back. Toews took a feed from Kane was standing in line with the goal posts. He then took the puck straight to the net and simply jammed it past Rinne, who was…doing something, we’ll assume. That goal tied the game at 3.

    Mike Fisher’s injury, some point in the first or second period. Not sure on Mr. Carrie Underwood’s status for Game 2, but Fisher played just one shift in the second frame before departing with what was announced as a lower-body injury. Fisher is a solid defensive forward who can win plenty of faceoffs (not that Nashville had trouble with that Wednesday). He was slotted ahead of Mike Ribeiro on the first line for those reasons. Regardless, anytime a team has to shorten its bench that early, it’s bound to put the coach in a bind. Fisher’s injury could have a large impact on the series moving forward, so stay tuned.

    Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

    Darling’s pad save, later save on Ribeiro, third period. Crawford is and should be starting Friday’s Game 2. But Darling deserves major props for the effort he turned in relieving Crawford. He had two highlight-reel saves in his three-plus periods of work. The first was an obscene post-to-post pad stop on a Preds’ powerplay. In a play that functioned similarly to the one the ’Hawks ran on Sharp’s goal, Ribeiro found Wilson down low, and Wilson quickly fed a backhander to an uncovered Ryan Ellis. But Darling showed lightning-quick reflexes and stoned Ellis, leaving NBCSN’s announcers incredulous. It’s more likely a forward scores there, but that doesn’t diminish how impressive the save was.

    Later, Shea Weber fed a pass to Wilson (dude’s everywhere), who found Ribeiro heading straight toward Darling’s glove side. Another nice pass by Wilson gave Ribeiro a prime scoring opportunity, but the 6-foot-6 Darling got a shoulder on Ribeiro’s attempt and then squatted on the puck while Ribeiro tried to bank in the rebound. Two spectacular saves by the backup goalie. It’s nice to know Darling has some playoff experience under his belt now, and that he can be relied upon to come in and be big (literally and figuratively) if necessary.

    The no-penalty on Keith, first overtime. With about 5 minutes left in the first overtime, Keith was a little slow to play the puck at his own blue line. Taylor Beck stripped Keith and headed toward Darling with only Keith to stop him. And Keith did stop Beck — by using a free hand to pull him down from behind. But no referee saw it, and play went on. This could have wound up a Preds’ penalty shot, so it was huge that Keith and the ’Hawks got away with one. It also became a little laughable for ’Hawks fans a short time later when Jones was given the weakest tripping penalty ever for chopping at Bryan Bickell’s stick. Good job by Pickles selling it.

    Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

    Keith’s goal, second overtime, 12:11 remaining. Brandon Saad and Toews won a board battle against two Preds, with the puck jumping out to Hossa near the circle. He moved it to Keith at the blue line, and the skater with the most ice time Wednesday blew one past Rinne to end it. It capped a fantastic comeback for the ’Hawks and will hopefully frustrate the Predators. They played a pretty effective game, especially in the opening 20. They actually had the crowd fully on their side (you wonder if that will be the case Friday, with more ’Hawks fans likely able to hit the road). But the ’Hawks played a good road game outside the first 20 and ultimately took a 1-0 series edge.

    Five quick takeaways

    — Scott Darling was very impressive in relief, though it’s Corey Crawford’s net to lost

    — The ’Hawks powerplay is moving in the right direction after a pair of tallies

    — It’s nice to see the defensemen jumping in on offensive plays (two goals from defensemen)

    — Someone shadow Colin Wilson forever

    — The ’Hawks need to win more faceoffs Friday

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