NASHVILLE – Those two most dreaded words in this happy and hydrated city – last call – were pending for the local hockey season Thursday night. But you’ve got to hand it to the Nashville Predators (and some will say the Blackhawks did just that).
The home team arose for three goals within the opening 3:14 of the third period to win going away, 5-2, and now the series is going back to the United Center for Game 6 Saturday night. The Blackhawks still lead the tournament 3-2, but there was this possibility of them enjoying a weekend off while the St. Louis Blues and Minnesota Wild continued sneering.
Forget that, and now a message from the department of the obvious: the Blackhawks want no part of a Game 7 here Monday night. They did seem sufficiently involved for most of Game 5, until they yielded a battery of assaults on Scott Darling shortly after the second intermission.
You would not in good conscience scold the Blackhawks for prematurely planning how to deal with the postgame handshake line, but they unaccountably provided either time and space or both for Nashville’s critical separation exercises from a 1-1 tie. James Neal, Colin Wilson on a power play and Filip Forsberg encountered little resistance. Destiny’s Darling took the blame, but in fact he was burned by the missing teammate formation.
“He was fine,” said Head Coach Joel Quenneville, absolving Darling.
“I’m fine,” added Darling. So is Patrick Kane after his repaired shoulder – and perhaps other body parts – got rattled on a vigorous hit by Mike Ribeiro. Kane soldiered on, later manufacturing a crafty assist on Kris Versteeg’s goal.
Darling was pulled with more than three minutes remaining, but what followed could be familiarity meeting contempt during a fast, tight series containing a lot of extra time. Marian Hossa slashed Viktor Stalberg, who was instrumental on Neal’s tiebreaker, and Andrew Shaw’s fist reached way up to find Seth Jones.
Then Paul Gaustad also took a ten-minute misconduct, and Forsberg polished off his hat trick on a power play into an empty net. The Predators were buoyed by the return of their excellent two-way forward, Mike Fisher, also known in these parts as Mr. Carrie Underwood.
Peter Laviolette, the Nashville coach, predicted a passionate effort and he got it. Laviolette coached the Philadelphia Flyers’ team that bowed to the Blackhawks in the 2010 Stanley Cup Final. But to advance that far, the Flyers emerged from a sinkhole. They trailed the Boston Bruins 3-0, and in Game 7, 3-0. He and the Predators fantasize that their world-class goalie, Pekka Rinne, is one Saturday night robbery in Chicago away from turning this series into playoff beard hairy.
The number of Blackhawks fans infiltrating Bridgestone Arena increased for Game 5, as it did in Game 2 over Game 1. And once again, The Star-Spangled Banner involved audience participation, as per house rules.
Brad Richards and Forsberg exchanged first-period goals. Darling was steady in the second, playing as he likes to say, behind some of the greatest athletes in the world. Alas, early in the third period, he was often playing way behind them.