NASHVILLE -- A gala atmosphere engulfed Bridgestone Arena. A few red sweaters were seen in the sellout crowd. Very few. The other 17,000 or so customers were outfitted with LED wristbands -- LED standing for, as we all know, light emitting diode. Carrie Underwood (Mrs. Mike Fisher) sang the national anthem. And of course, when live music didn't supply entertainment, an old favorite outside of Illinois blasted through the roof.
"The Night Chicago Died."
It was also the night Chicago scored. Unfortunately for the shocked and dismayed Blackhawks, when Monday night turned to Tuesday morning, they absorbed an excruciating defeat. Moments after being stoned by Corey Crawford, who was extremely good, Kevin Fiala scored at 16:44 of overtime to provide the rallying Nashville Predators a 3-2 victory and a 3-0 chokehold in this First Round playoff series.
The Predators will go for the kill here Thursday night. The Blackhawks will have two days to think about it. In 2011, they fell behind the Vancouver Canucks 3-0 in the Conference Quarterfinals, only to win three straight and force sudden death in Game 7 before bowing. It was a gallant comeback, but as Head Coach Joel Quenneville advised, that was a long time ago.
And the Blackhawks need heaps of gallantry now. They mounted a 2-0 lead here through two periods, appeared ready to stamp their Western Conference champion pedigree on the proceedings, only to succumb on the 49th shot by the Predators, who are generating serious offense from their mobile back end.
Filip Forsberg registered both of their other goals and, for argument's sake, the Blackhawks challenged each. They contended the puck struck the net above the glass before his first at 4:24 of the third period, then posed the possibility that Crawford was interfered with on the second at 14:08. They went 0-for-2 in the complaint department.
In the area of truculence, Forsberg and Niklas Hjalmarsson were sent off for tripping each other, which you don't see every day.
Then there was Jonathan Toews, bodied by P.K. Subban, taking a mighty stick swing at the Nashville defenseman, and making solid contact. The Blackhawks promised to be angry, and they were more involved than during their mysterious blank-to-blank losses at the United Center.
Plus, they halted goalie Pekka Rinne's gaudy shutout streak at 141 minutes, 5 seconds -- the fourth-longest from the start of a series in National Hockey League history -- with Dennis Rasmussen's jam shot from in close at 1:05 of the second period. He skated with Marcus Kruger and Richard Panik, Nick Schmaltz having taken a perch beside Toews and Marian Hossa. The Rasmussen-Kruger-Panik trio was industrious, and upon registering their first marker of the tournament, the Blackhawks somehow remembered how to celebrate.
When Ryan Ellis flipped the puck over the glass, the delay of game opened another opportunity for the visitors. They did not waste it, as Patrick Kane whistled a shot past Rinne for his 50th playoff goal from the right circle, Artem Anisimov screening low. That came at 10:16. The Blackhawks were up 2-0, but the Predators were not impressed. They survived an early scare when Rinne had to scramble from behind the goal line and extended to reach a distant clear off the left boards from Johnny Oduya and kept sniping until they solved the evening's better, busier masked man.
"We haven't played our best hockey yet," groused Crawford. He can say that again. If he says it again Thursday night, you know what song they'll be playing at Bridgestone Arena.