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Round 1

Blackhawks deal with 'major disappointment' of early exit

Swept in first round by Predators after having best record in West

by Brian Hedger / Correspondent

NASHVILLE -- The scene inside the Chicago Blackhawks locker room at Bridgestone Arena on Thursday spoke volumes after their 4-1 loss to the Nashville Predators.

The Predators finished off a sweep of the Blackhawks in Game 4 of their Western Conference First Round series, and the evidence was on Chicago's faces. Captain Jonathan Toews had a cut on his right cheek, rookie Ryan Hartman had a black eye, Artemi Panarin spoke with blood on his lips, and Patrick Kane wore a stunned look.

It was a fitting representation of how this series went for the Blackhawks, who were stung by a Predators team that was the second wild card from the West.

"It's tough enough to lose a series and fall short," said Toews, who scored Chicago's only goal in Game 4 to break a personal playoff drought that dated to Game 4 of the 2015 Stanley Cup Final (12 games). "It's a whole different story to lose four straight and get swept like we did. We've got guys in this room that have experienced the highs of going all the way. I think aside from what it would feel like to miss the playoffs, especially with the potential in this room, this has to be the next-worst feeling, for sure."


[RELATED: Complete Blackhawks vs. Predators series coverage]


It was stunning because of what the Blackhawks accomplished in the regular season. They won the Central Division and finished with 109 points, the most in the Western Conference.

After clinching the top seed in the West on April 1, they did not win another game, losing eight in a row (final four of regular season, four in playoffs).

"It was a major disappointment across the board," coach Joel Quenneville said. "Not good enough. I don't think anybody exceeded their expectations. We don't compete to the level that's necessary, I take that personally, as a coach, that we didn't find the all-out button … didn't get the job done."

Chicago became the third team in NHL history to get swept in the first round of the playoffs after having the best record in their conference during the regular season (1981 Montreal Canadiens, by Edmonton Oilers in best-of-5 preliminary round; 1993 Blackhawks, by St. Louis Blues in Norris Division Semifinals), according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

The problems were multifaceted, beginning with the Predators' speed advantage and puck possession. Outside of a couple periods, they owned the puck and bogged down the Blackhawks offense by clogging the neutral zone.

Odd-man rushes were scant for Chicago, which scored three goals in the series. The Blackhawks had six players score at least 21 goals this season, and rookie Ryan Hartman had 19.

"You have a good regular season, I think maybe we won a couple close games that might have made us feel like we were better than we really were," said Kane, who had one playoff goal for the second straight season. "Obviously, they took it to us this series. To score three goals in four games, I mean … there's no way you're going to win doing that."

Video: CHI@NSH, Gm4: Preds advance, shake hands with Hawks

The Blackhawks lost Game 1 at United Center 1-0 despite getting heavy pressure late in the third period. They lost Game 2 5-0 and Game 3 3-2 in overtime Monday, putting them in a 3-0 hole.

Their play in Game 4 was largely the same, and the Predators controlled the action. Chicago finished with more shots, 31-26, but Nashville scored three goals on six shots in the third period, including Viktor Arvidsson scoring into an empty net at 18:12.

It was fitting that a member of the Predators' top line finished the scoring. That unit wore out the Blackhawks defense in four straight games.

Chicago had no answer for Arvidsson, Filip Forsberg and center Ryan Johansen, who combined for five goals and 14 points in the series.

The Blackhawks were eliminated from the playoffs in the first round for the second straight season, after taking the St. Louis Blues to seven games a year ago.

Asked which was more disappointing, it was no contest for Toews.

"It's totally different," he said. "We accomplished all our goals of getting home-ice advantage, and we get here and don't take advantage of the opportunity one bit. We just couldn't find the way to get to the highest level of what we know is our potential. We didn't get close to it. So, in some ways it is more disappointing we left so much on the table compared to losing … in Game 7. It's obviously quite a bit different."

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