The Chicago Blackhawks won their first-round series against the Nashville Predators the exact same way they started it. Down three goals, a goalie change and a tongue lashing at intermission fired up the team to victory.
The game started with a bang. James Neal scored a minute into the game to quiet the United Center. The goal shook the Hawks, who now looked scattered and unorganized. Neal struck again on the power play seven minutes later.
What the heck was happening? The Predators kept the puck in Chicago’s zone and neutralized the defense. Patrick Sharp managed a goal two minutes later, which energized the fans. But no. Matt Cullen ripped a goal past Scott Darling only to zap the energy from the atmosphere.
Coach Joel Quenneville was experiencing déjà vu from Game 1. He knew what he had to do. He changed goalies. Darling saved the team, but now the spark was gone. Granted, he received zero help, but something needed to be done. Darling skated off the ice, but gave Corey Crawford a huge hug before handing the starter his net. The arena erupted and something changed. It was all the Blackhawks needed.
Jonathan Toews scored a power play goal just a minute after Crawford’s return. The bench and arena exploded and that is when everyone knew the Blackhawks were coming back. It did not stop the Predators, though, especially Neal. If not for Crawford, Neal could have scored a hat trick in the first period. Then Patrick Kane tied it up with five seconds left in the first. The Hawks were back, but the look on Quenneville’s face showed the team was not out of the woods.
There is no doubt Quenneville destroyed the team in the locker room during intermission mainly because of the way they appeared in the second. They skated composed and neat. The second period was beautiful. Pure hockey with plenty of hits, shots, and almost goals. The game was fast with both teams threatening. Predators goalie Pekka Rinne kept his team in the game as he managed to stop twelve shots. The stats say twelve, but it felt like more.
Insane is the only way to describe the third period. Memories of overtime and triple overtime flooded everyone’s mind. The Blackhawks kept the puck in Nashville’s zone so much that the Predators only managed four shots on goal. The Blackhawks recorded nine and after what appeared to be a hundred shots on goal the Predators stole the puck. Poor Rinne backed into his net, hunched over with his head towards the ice and worn out. Duncan Keith managed to find an open slot and pushed it passed Rinne to win the game 4-3.
Now the Hawks face either the Minnesota Wild or St. Louis Blues in the second round.