Stanley Cup playoff runs aren’t meant to be calm, cool and collected at all times, especially not from the fans’ perspective. Dramatic swings, both positive and negative, can happen at the tip of a puck. The Chicago Blackhawks had this presented to them over and over during the most recent championship run.
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Though the Blackhawks disposed of the Nashville Predators in six games in the opening round, the series was not without hair-pulling moments. Some of those were on display in Game 3, the series’ first outing at the United Center.
That’s where we head for the next entry on our countdown of top Blackhawks playoff wins under coach Joel Quenneville.
Note: Check out the previous entries in this series at the end of this post.
No. 57: 2015 Western Conference first round, Game 3
Chicago Blackhawks 4, Nashville Predators 2
This game was interesting before the first puck was even dropped, as Q decided to show off his creative powers by making some lineup changes. Out went Teuvo Teravainen, a recurring theme in these playoffs, and in came Andrew Desjardins. Antoine Vermette also slotted in after being out the series’ first two games, filling a Joakim Nordstrom-sized hole. The moves were viewed as one positive, one negative following Chicago’s 6-2 defeat in Game 2.
It turned out getting Desjardins in the lineup was probably the best thing Q could have done, though not necessarily for the reason the former Shark displayed early in his first career playoff game.
Da Windy City
Desjardins wound up being part of a potent shutdown defense line with Andrew Shaw and Marcus Kruger, and that trio was together for this game (though it’d be a while longer before the line would stick).
The game’s first scoring play involved Desjardins, who took a pass from Marian Hossa after the latter simply floated along the center-ice line while waiting for his teammates to make a line change. Off the bench flew Desjardins, who Hossa saw the entire way and hit with a pass just ahead of the blue line. Desjardins’ first shot was blocked by a Predator, but his follow-up bid found its way past Nashville goaltender Pekka Rinne for a surprising 1-0 lead almost 15 minutes into the first frame.
This is also where the ulcer started to form, for some fans. The Blackhawks under Q have a bit of a history of letting off the gas when they get a lead. This game saw the beginning of that trend in the 2015 playoffs, and the beginning of the Blackhawks being forced to pay for it pretty much every time.
The Predators got the puck in deep on the very next shift after Desjardins’ goal, and the Blackhawks could never settle it down. Eventually, the bouncing puck found its way to Craig Smith, who saw terrible person of the year candidate Mike Ribeiro shifting from the side board to the middle of the ice. Ribeiro accepted Smith’s pass and simply hammered a shot past Scott Darling — in during his short run as Chicago’s starter during these playoffs — to tie the game just 29 seconds after Desjardins tallied.
Not an optimal defensive alignment. (Screenshot from YouTube)
When the second period began, the Blackhawks’ lead quickly returned. Duncan Keith made a nice bank pass off the side board in the neutral zone to Jonathan Toews. In turn, Toews found Hossa, who carried the puck into the offensive zone. The brilliance of Hossa was then put on display when he passed up what looked to be a pretty good scoring opportunity in order to create a better one. His drop pass to a sneaky Toews allowed the captain to set up a snipe from beyond the circles, beating Rinne for a 2-1 Chicago edge.
And then …
Nashville waited just 22 seconds to tie the game once more. After winning an offensive zone draw, the Preds tossed the puck along the blue line from Smith to Ryan Ellis to Mattias Ekholm. After Shaw went for a big hit on Ellis, Ekholm had enough time to set up a campsite and still get off a shot. His bomb of a shot sounded like it went through a wall, and it definitely went through Darling to tie the game again.
The Blackhawks would again respond pretty quickly. Their second goal came about 5:30 after the first one. And their third goal came less than three minutes after the second. This one was created entirely by Brandon Saad, who attacked losing team MVP Colin Wilson right after he picked off Darling’s attempted clearing pass from behind the net. Wilson wasn’t able to settle the puck, and Saad simply took it from him and streaked down the ice. He snapped the puck past Rinne from above the circles, and (though they didn’t know it yet) this time the Blackhawks were ahead to stay.
But Nashville almost pulled off a quick comeback for the third time in less than 30 game minutes. About three minutes after Saad’s goal, the Blackhawks were breaking up the ice for an offensive zone attack. Patrick Sharp, instead of dumping the puck deep, tried to carry it in. He slipped and fell to the ice, and Gabriel Bourque was right there to take the puck the other way. He more or less had a breakaway, as the Blackhawks defensemen were in the midst of a line change. Keith sprinted off the bench but couldn’t get close enough to Bourque to affect his shot. Thankfully for Chicago, the crossbar was friendly and bailed out Sharp and Co.
Hurry, referee! Get in his way! (Screenshot from YouTube)
So instead of the Preds tying the game, the Blackhawks had a chance to extend their lead. They would do so about six minutes after Bourque’s post shot. With a Preds line stuck on the ice in its defensive zone and one player without a stick, the Blackhawks practiced good puck possession and waited for their chance. Shaw won a board battle and chipped the puck to Toews, who carried it behind the net and to Rinne’s left. He saw Brent Seabrook waiting in the slot, and Seabs’ shot through traffic trickled past Rinne and gave Chicago a 4-2 lead.
Brad Richards tried to push the lead even further, and only some bad luck and impressive goaltending by Rinne prevented that. Richards stole the puck from Roman Josi just inside the Blackhawks’ offensive zone, got right in on Rinne and lifted a backhander into a small spot over the goaltender’s left shoulder.
The puck hit Rinne’s shoulder, then the bottom of the crossbar, and then it landed on Rinne’s back. He spun around and flailed on the ice trying to keep the puck from finding the back of the net, succeeding after a tense moment.
Seth Jones and Roman Josi enjoyed the view, too. (Screenshot from YouTube)
The Blackhawks had to fight off some level of a Predators’ attack in the third, but the game was mostly wrapped up after Seabrook’s goal. As the color commentator (don’t recognize the voice) pointed out about halfway through the last period, Nashville had more shots on net but fewer quality scoring chances. Indeed, the Predators outshot the Blackhawks 37-30, but Chicago created some great bids from its fewer shots.
One other thing of note during this game occurred in the waning moments, when Rinne vacated the net for an extra Nashville attacker. Sharp had a free shot at the net, but he managed to fire the puck right into the crotch of Ellis, who was standing in the crease as a makeshift goaltender. First that, and now he has to play in Dallas. Poor Sharpie.
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