CHICAGO – When the Nashville Predators got together Saturday to watch some tape and make a few adjustments and corrections, their dramatic Game 1 win over the Chicago Blackhawks was pretty much old news. At least to them.
“We didn’t even talk about last night,” coach Barry Trotz said. “We’re worried about (Sunday) night’s game. They are very business-like.”
That’s one way of describing the Predators’ approach after Friday night’s 4-1 victory on the Blackhawks’ home ice where Chicago won 29 games this season.
Nashville did all of its scoring in the third period ? two goals coming from ex-Blackhawks forward J.P. Dumont and two empty netters that quieted what had been a raucous crowd.
Winning their first road playoff game in 11 tries, the Predators were able to slow down Chicago’s talented offence with a stifling middle-of-the-ice defence. The Blackhawks led the NHL this season in most shots attempted per game (34) and fewest shots allowed (25), but Nashville stayed even as both teams finished with 26 shots.
“They get you when you are trying to make plays in the middle, they all come back really hard and when you try to go east-west, they end up taking it the other way,” Chicago’s Andrew Ladd said Saturday, describing the Predators’ defence.
“They are a hard team to play against. They find ways to keep themselves in games and come up with two points at the end of the night,” Chicago coach Joel Quenneville. “Last night is probably a good illustration.”
The second-seeded Blackhawks, who just missed finishing first in the Western Conference, led 1-0 after two periods as rookie goalie Antti Niemi looked solid.
But when Dumont flipped a puck from deep on the right side toward the net early in the third, it bounced and then eluded Niemi to tie the game. After a big turnover by Chicago’s Troy Brouwer, Dumont added the go-ahead score later in the period.
“I think that lucky bounce gave us momentum and gave us that hope, and I think we kind of got going after that,” Predators defenceman Shea Weber said. “That kind of woke us up.”
Even though some players claimed the ice condition wasn’t ideal and somewhat chippy, Niemi didn’t use the surface as an excuse for Dumont’s first goal ? the one that turned the game.
“I should have been more aggressive,” said Niemi, who made his playoff debut, as did Nashville goaltender Pekka Rinne.
“I saw it coming to the net. I don’t know how it bounced or why,” he added. “It had nothing to do with the ice. … It was just a terrible goal. We were handling things that far really good in the game.”
The Blackhawks will make at least one adjustment for Sunday night’s Game 2. Quenneville will reunite Olympic defencemen Brent Seabrook and Duncan Keith. He split them up shortly after Brian Campbell and Seabrook were injured by separate hits, and the Blackhawks were struggling. His shuffle also included moving forward Dustin Byfuglien to defence.
“We know it’s a great tandem and they work well together,” Quenneville said.
Trotz pointed out that sometimes it’s the smallest detail that can make the biggest difference in the playoffs, especially when the games are so close and the pace so frenetic.
“That playoff style of game really tightens it up and limits your options,” Weber said. “Sometimes where you might have an extra second to make a play in the regular season, you don’t in the playoffs because the speed is that much faster.”
“Every game you press the reset button,” added Rinne, who finished with 25 saves, including a nice poke check against Patrick Sharp on a partial breakaway.
“I think they want to get a few more shots to the net. I think they’re going to crash the net a little more, maybe throw some people around the crease areas,” Rinne said.
“I think it’s going be the same kind of game: really physically tough, mentally tough and a hard grinding game.”