While the Blackhawks didn't get the start to the postseason that they wanted, the team has already turned their focus squarely to Game 2 on Saturday, when they'll try to even the score against the Predators. Thursday's series opener was a mixed bag, as Chicago got off to a fast start only to stall out in the middle of the first period after Nashville earned a power play and rode that momentum to an early -- and only -- goal by Viktor Arvidsson.
The Blackhawks didn't respond until the start of the second period, but for the last 40 minutes of the game they set up camp in Nashville's zone, outshooting the Preds 23-9. The visitors were "happy to check" for the rest of the game, according to Head Coach Joel Quenneville, and ultimately Pekka Rinne and the defense in front of him absorbed the pressure and held on for an important 1-0 win.
Quenneville will make changes to his forward lines for Game 2, specifically on the top unit and bottom six. His in-game adjustments on Thursday including double-shifting Patrick Kane whenever possible and subbing in Tanner Kero on the top line, where he added some energy and physicality, ending the night with three shots on goal and six hits, second only to Richard Panik's seven.
During Friday's skate, Ryan Hartman and John Hayden took turns skating with Jonathan Toews and Panik, and Nick Schmaltz moved down to the third line with Marcus Kruger and presumably Marian Hossa, who did not participate in practice. Meanwhile Dennis Rasmussen (who was scratched for Game 1) skated with Kero and Jordin Tootoo on the fourth line, although it's most likely that Hayden or Hartman would take one of the slots at wing on Saturday.
TO VIKTOR GO THE SPOILS
It's no surprise that Nashville's top trio of Arvidsson, Ryan Johansen and Filip Forsberg would combine for their team's lone goal of the game, but it required a bit of luck in the lead-up. As Johansen collected the puck inside the blue line, two Blackhawks forwards got tangled up at the top of their zone, giving Johansen time to slide the puck over to Forsberg. A quick shot by Forsberg found Arvidsson streaking toward the net, giving the diminutive winger a golden opportunity to show why he was able to score 31 goals during the regular season.
The ability of Nashville's top line to create scoring opportunities off the rush and execute quick passing plays like the one that led to Thursday's goal has been crucial to the team's success this season, and the Blackhawks will need to limit those kinds of chances for the rest of the series. Naturally, Arvidsson paced the Preds with four shots on goal (20 percent of their game total) on Thursday, and while the trio didn't log a lot of minutes when Nashville was desperately defending their lead, they already did all the damage that was needed.
The Blackhawks had two power-play opportunities on Thursday, one at the beginning of the second period and one midway through the third as the team. Chicago tested Rinne three times on the first power play, but did not record a single shot on goal on their second chance with the man advantage despite plenty of zone time. While Nashville's defenders diligent about blocking shots, there's no doubt the overall effort could have been more persistent and energetic, continuing Chicago's heavy shifts at even strength.
Additionally, late in the game, despite around 90 seconds of 6-on-5 effort, the Blackhawks managed just two shots on goal -- all before the 19-minute mark -- and could not muster any late chances even though they had Nashville pinned in their own zone.
After the loss, Quenneville said he wanted his players to show more desperation, especially around the net, a sentiment that was echoed on Friday by players. "Can't really stress it enough," Hartman said. "Get in front of [Rinne's] eyes, make it harder for him."
Video: Hartman on generating traffic in front of the net
BLOCKING THE WAY
The Predators are expecting their blueliners to make a big impact in this series, and they did what they could in Game 1. As expected, the top pairing of Roman Josi and Ryan Ellis was eager to join the rush, and each contributed 3 shots on goal in the tilt, second only to Arvidsson's 4; Josi actually led all Nashville skaters with nine shot attempts (six were blocked). Josi and Ellis played more than 28 and 26 minutes, respectively, bearing most of the brunt against the trio of Artem Anisimov, Kane and Artemi Panarin thanks to Chicago's last-change avantage.
The second pairing of P.K. Subban and Mattias Ekholm saw pretty even ice time against the Blackhawks' top six, but they did get involved in Nashville's lone goal as Subban started the play just inside Chicago's blue line. In the final two periods the Predators found themselves largely on the back foot, and were more than happy to put bodies in front of shots, accumulating 26 blocks throughout the course of Game 1. Josi again led the way with five blocked shots, Ellis added three, and the rest of the defensemen combined for seven; veteran Mike Fisher led team forwards with four blocked shots and was a key part of the Preds' defensive hold in the final minutes of the game.
Quenneville discussed options for taking advantage of zone time and generating more shots after practice on Friday:
Video: Quenneville on potential line changes in Game 2