The Chicago Blackhawks may have lost to the Nashville Predators 3-2 on Tuesday night, but there are plenty of positives to take out of the defeat. First and foremost, the Hawks played better tonight than they did in any of the four playoff games against the Preds last spring.
The energy and pace between these two teams was high from the opening draw on Tuesday night. Filip Forsberg gave the home team an early 1-0 lead with 12th goal just over three minutes into the game. Anton Forsberg stopped a shot from Viktor Arvidsson, but Forsberg got to the front of the net to put home the rebound. Brent Seabrook was criticized heavily on social media, but Forsberg was the responsibility of Jonathan Toews, who let him skate right by him to get to the crease.
The Blackhawks had a quick response with a couple of quality scoring chances on the very next shift and eventually tied the game at the 5:10 mark of the first period. Alex DeBrincat continued his hot play by hustling down the ice to beat out icing then finding Tommy Wingels out front for the one-timer past Pekka Rinne. Patrick Sharp had the secondary assist on Wingels second goal of the year.
Patrick Kane could have easily had a first period hat trick, but he was denied on a couple chances by Rinne, had a puck jump over his stick and even had the linesman get in his way on a possible odd-man rush.
While the Blackhawks matched the pace of the Predators during the first period, the same could not be said during the second period. Nashville outshot the Blackhawks just 13-11, but for much of the period it seemed that the guys in white were on a penalty kill.
Austin Watson had the only goal of the middle frame, 3:48 in, by getting to the front of the net and having Matt Irwin’s shot hit off of him and get in behind Forsberg for his third goal of the year. The officials reviewed the play to see if Watson hit the puck with a high stick, but the replay showed it hit off his body.
Joel Quenneville challenged the play for goaltender interference, but lost. Watson made contact with Forsberg’s stick, but it was ruled a good goal. The bottom line is that if Ryan Hartman did anything to impede Watson’s path to the front of the net, Irwin’s shot would have sailed well wide of the net.
Kane’s frustration over not finding the back of the net boiled over a minute into third period as he got nailed for cross-checking Kevin Fiala in the head. Roman Josi converted 90 seconds later as his shot from the top of the left circle hit off of Brent Seabrook and got past Forsberg.
The Blackhawks once again were able to respond and another fourth liner cut the Nashville lead in half at the 9:38 mark. John Hayden sent a centering pass towards the front of the net and Lance Bouma got just enough of his stick on it to get it past Rinne. Jan Ruutta was credited with the secondary assist on Bouma’s second goal with the Blackhawks.
The Hawks had plenty of chances to get the equalizer, including spending the entire 4:23 with an extra man due to a power play and a pulled goalie, but could not push another puck over the goal line.
There is no shame in tonight’s loss. The Blackhawks went toe-to-toe with one of the Western Conference’s hottest teams, in their building, with their backup goaltender and on the second night of back-to-back games. Nashville got a couple bounces while the Blackhawks didn’t. That was the difference.