Three things we learned while watching the Predators even their first round series with a 6-2 win over the Blackhawks in Nashville on Friday night.
1. Corey Crawford wasn’t the problem on Friday night—but he’s still an issue.
Yes, the Blackhawks goalie was beaten by Colin Wilson for a goal just 3:47 into the game, but the shot was a tough one—Wilson walked the puck in to point-blank range before firing it over Crawford’s left shoulder—and it came off the stick of a man who had already scored twice in Game 1. It was a sign of things to come.
Overall, this was a decent rebound performance from Crawford, who had a night to forget on Wednesday, when he gave up three goals on 12 shots in the first period. Chicago coach Joel Quenneville yanked him for backup Scott Darling, who stopped all 42 shots he faced as the Blackhawks came back to win 4–3 in double overtime. Quenneville could have stuck with the hot hand, but he went back to his No. 1. He described his decision as a “no-brainer.”
For much of the game, Crawford redeemed himself with his play, making 25 saves, several of them outstanding, on the first 28 shots he faced. As good as he was though, he was outdone by the hard-charging Predators, who kept a lot of traffic in front of him and did a good job of shooting high, especially on Roman Josi’s crucial goal that put Nashville up 2–1 with 3.6 seconds left in the first.
In the final minutes, however, everything fell apart. Crawford was betrayed as much by his own defense, which was giving up breakaways and wide-open looks to Nashville almost every time the Predators touched the puck, as he was by himself. Nashville’s lead went from 3–2 to 6–2 in just over two minutes. The collapse wasn’t all his fault, but the fact remains that Crawford has now given up nine goals on the last 47 shots he has faced. That’s a save percentage of .809. Quenneville will probably stick with him in Game 3 on Sunday, but the call isn’t a no-brainer anymore.
2. Boy, did the Predators look good—but the injuries are piling up.
For most of the game, Nashville was more physical, more aggressive and more passionate than Chicago—midway through the first period, the Predators were outshooting the Blackhawks 8–1. But Nashville nevertheless led by only one goal as the third period was winding down. Somewhere in the back of coach Peter Laviolette’s mind, he had to be terrified that his team would play so well and still lose.
He had nothing to worry about. Just past the 12-minute mark of the third period, the dam finally cracked and the Predators exploded for three goals in just 2:19. Defenseman Roman Josi played an outstanding game, flying all over the ice, joining the rush, forcing turnovers and dishing out well-timed hits. He also helped out on a smothering penalty kill unit that held Chicago scoreless on four power plays, one of which lasted four minutes.
Josi’s excellent play was a big boost for Nashville, especially in light of the loss of his defense partner, Shea Weber, to a lower body injury in the second period. Weber didn’t return to the ice for the rest of the night. It was a big blow to the Predators, who also lost gritty center Mike Fisher to injury in the second period of Game 1.
2. Patrick Kane is just fine.
In Game 1 on Wednesday, in his first action since he went down with a broken collarbone seven weeks ago, the Blackhawks’ winger played well, assisting on a pair of power play goals in the second period as Chicago erased the Predators’ 3–0 lead. On Friday night, he was even better.
Even with Nashville going after him hard, Kane was electric with and without the puck, and he was seemingly in the middle of every big play, even at five-on-five. After such a long layoff, it would be understandable if he wasn’t as fit as normal, but Quenneville didn’t hesitate to double-shift him at times. Perhaps Kane isn’t in the best shape, but all the minutes didn’t seem bother him in the least, which should scare the Predators going forward.
Kane’s goal 10:32 into the second period was vintage stuff. He slipped off the bench near the blue line (officials missed the fact that the Blackhawks had too many men on the ice), took a pass from Brent Seabrook and streaked up the left wing, bearing down on Pekka Rinne. Kane kept his head up and snapped the puck past Rinne’s glove, briefly tying the game 2–2. It was his first goal since Feb. 11.
Kane was tied for the league lead in points when he was injured. He certainly will score more goals before the first round is over.