Game 1 of the Western Conference quarterfinals took a turn for the worse in a hurry for the Blackhawks Friday night.
The Hawks held a 1-0 lead going into the third period on a goal by Patrick Kane, but Nashville netted four goals in the final 20 minutes (including two empty-netters) to skate away with a 4-1 victory.
We've talked a lot this year about goaltending, and Antti Niemi did let in one soft goal in his playoff debut. Nashville's J.P. Dumont flipped a weak backhander from out near the blue line that took a weird bounce and somehow got past Niemi at 1:31 of the third period. Tie game. A little bit of a fluky goal, but that puck has got to be stopped.
Nashville's game-winning goal was none of Niemi's fault, however. Troy Brouwer made an inexcusable turnover that gave the Predators an odd-man rush. Niemi made the initial stop, but Dumont put the rebound in at 10:37 to make it 2-1. The empty-netters closed the deal.
I thought Nashville goalie Pekka Rinne had a strong game. He was especially good in the first two periods, when he stopped 21 of 22 shots. I do feel, though, that the Hawks spent way too much time on the perimeter. They didn't get enough pucks and bodies to the net tonight. They didn't work hard enough on the boards. They tried to make fancy plays with the puck. Too much east-west, and not enough north-south.
The one Blackhawk goal was scored because Kane went hard to the net and tapped in a rebound. Those are the types of goals you need in the playoffs. Those are the types of goals that got the Blackhawks to the Western finals last year. As we stated in our series preview earlier this week, Nashville is going to try to make this ugly and win low-scoring games. The Predators accomplished their mission tonight. The Hawks are going to have to step up their work ethic in Game 2. This opening performance was not acceptable in any way.
Another key for the Hawks: Ignore the cries of doom from their skittish fan base. It's a long series, and one loss isn't the end of the world. The Hawks need to get back to what has made them successful all year in Game 2. Game 1 wasn't anywhere near their best hockey.