NASHVILLE, Tenn. – The Nashville Predators are living in the moment, trying not to get too excited over their first 2-1 opening-series lead.
The Chicago Blackhawks are using words like desperation and urgency while hearing about angry fans back home. This is the team that seemingly breezed into the Western Conference finals a year ago and came a goal from grabbing the No. 1 seed this time around, a favourite to win the Stanley Cup this post-season.
Captain Jonathan Toews, high-priced acquisition Marian Hossa and Patrick Sharp have yet to score. The hard-hitting Predators are frustrating the Blackhawks and have outscored them 8-4 in this series. Coach Joel Quenneville switched up his lines Wednesday, though he refused to say who might play Thursday night in Game 4.
“Certainly there’s things that we’ve got to do better going forward, but the one thing is if we don’t compete the way we have to be successful in other areas of the game looks like we’ve got some problems,” Quenneville said. “We simplify and talk about that and talk about competing, get back to the basics.”
Nashville had 2,500 tickets to sell before Thursday night after missing a sellout in Game 3. One more win, and a franchise that played its first game in 1998 will take a dominating 3-1 edge.
“You can take control of the series for the most part,” Nashville coach Barry Trotz said. “If you let it slide … it becomes a best of three. You got to pick your poison. I’d rather be having control of the series rather than being down, best out of three. That’s pretty easy to answer.”
The Predators are being led by goaltender Pekka Rinne, the third-lowest draft pick in the NHL this season. All he’s doing in his post-season debut is lead the league both with his 1.35 goals against average and with his .953 save per centage. The Finn has allowed only two even-strength goals so far.
Nashville hasn’t had top goal scorer Patric Hornqvist but David Legwand had a goal and two assists in leading four different Predators in scoring a goal apiece in Tuesday night’s 4-1 victory. Legwand, defenceman Ryan Suter and forward Joel Ward are among the top nine in plus or minus rating this post-season. Pittsburgh is the only other team with more than two that high.
It’s been a welcome surprise considering Nashville scored exactly as many goals as it allowed this season (225).
“I’m not sure they’re worried about our offence,” Nashville left wing Steve Sullivan said. “They’re worried about their game. … To win the series, you have to try to be the best you can be.”
Nashville outdid Chicago across the board to take a 2-1 lead this franchise has never enjoyed before. The Predators outhit the Blackhawks 32-18, outshot them 35-27 and even had more giveaways (14-6) Tuesday night. With a crowd about 1,000 short of a sellout waving towels and screaming, it didn’t matter.
Chicago scored the third-most goals in the NHL this season. Quenneville wants his Blackhawks to quit trying for the pretty goal and look to score, especially with the Predators right there as they grab possession of the puck and waiting for them as they near the net to give Rinne clear vision for any shots coming his way.
“Trying to get cute about it ain’t going to get it done,” Quenneville said.
He worked right wing Adam Burish, a scratch the first three games, with Troy Brouwer and John Madden while Bryan Bickell practised with Patrick Kane and Toews. Burish said it hasn’t been fun sitting but won’t say if he’s playing Thursday.
“It’s the playoffs. It wouldn’t be good gamesmanship to tell you now, would it?” Burish said.
Defenceman Brian Campbell, who broke a collarbone and a rib when hit by Washington’s Alex Ovechkin on March 14, also might be an option. He has practised the past week, and Quenneville said they would talk about his status.
The Blackhawks feel as a young, talented team they can bounce back. They lost eight of 11 in March after the Olympic break but finished the season with six straight wins before an overtime loss to Detroit in the regular season finale.
“We have to regroup and make sure we’re coming back home 2-2,” Hossa said.