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Between the Dots: Nashville's 2-0 lead is no fluke

by Bob Verdi / Team Historian

One Goal.

That has been the organizational mantra for the Blackhawks during this era of great success. Now, in a time of stress, it is atop their wish list.

Remarkably, after two Stanley Cup Playoffs games at the United Center, the presumptive First Round favorites have left a trail of Easter eggs. The Blackhawks were strafed Saturday night 5-0, only a couple evenings after losing to the Nashville Predators 1-0.

That the Western Conference's top seed is halfway to elimination has to send shockwaves throughout the National Hockey League, although Jeremy Roenick looks like Nostradamus so far. A television expert now, he went considerably out on the limb and volunteered that the No. 8 seeded Predators were the absolute worst possible matchup for his former team.

Indeed, this series does not even have a whiff of fluke to it. The Predators have been faster, hungrier, better. Put it this way. How can a goalie, Pekka Rinne, come into the Madhouse on Madison and be perfect for six periods without having to be spectacular? Again, Saturday night, he saw the puck as if it was a beach ball and stopped 30, but only some of them challenging. (Just to rub it in, he had two assists, might have had three.) As teammates clog lanes, block shots and check passionately, it feels as though the Predators are playing with too many men on the ice.

Not since 2002 have the Blackhawks been blanked in consecutive postseason starts, and that was not a golden era in franchise annals. Your heroes had not had earned a playoff berth since 1997, and would not again do so until 2009. So the 2002 squad was not one to remember. This one is supposed to be, but frustration is evident and the fans are upset too. When Ryan Johansen scored 13:49 into the third period for a 4-0 Nashville bulge, it was as though someone yelled "Fire." Thousands among 22,175 departed.

"Hard to watch," admitted Head Coach Joel Quenneville, as if forgiving a cacophony of boos. Quenneville tried new combinations and old combinations, all for naught. The closest the Blackhawks came to beating Rinne: Richard Panik clanked the far post on him early and Jonathan Toews later. On another Chicago foray, not that they were countless, Panik screeched to a halt and provided a snow shower for Rinne. He saved all of those flakes too.

It wasn't as though the Blackhawks didn't try. There was Artemi Panarin laying down to smother a shot, for goodness sakes, with the game already out of hand. And there was Panik teeing it up on a rare Nashville turnover, only to shank the puck from position A in front of Rinne. Then there was Marcus Kruger with an apparent opening… no, wait. There went his shooting room. Predators, everywhere.

Alas, luck is the residue of design and effort. Ryan Ellis attempted a blast from inside the Blackhawk blue line and Panik blunted it. But the puck caromed right back to Ellis, who tried again and scored on Corey Crawford through a screen by Viktor Arvidsson, who had the only goal in Game 1.

Already up 1-0, the Predators scored twice more in the middle period. Harry Zolnierczyk, on a nifty stretch pass from Mattias Ekholm, broke in on Crawford after an awkward change left Johnny Oduya groping. He tried to foil the play from behind, but Zolnierczyk rifled a shot over Crawford. Colton Sissons banged in a third goal off a scrum and it was 3-0 at 13 minutes. With their discipline and structure, the Predators had more than enough to play with. In a pinch, they iced the puck as if they knew it wouldn't cost them.

"I don't think I would have planned for that," admitted Nashville Head Coach Peter Laviolette when asked if he was surprised about two shutouts. His counterpart posed no opposing view.

"Tremendous hole," rasped Quenneville.

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