NASHVILLE – The Chicago Blackhawks weathered the early storm they expected from the Nashville Predators at Bridgestone Arena on Thursday. But another one, early in the third period, was too powerful to overcome in Game 5 of their Western Conference First Round series.
The Predators' three goals in the first 3:14 of the third period turned a 1-1 game after 40 minutes into a 5-2 victory for Nashville, which pulled within 3-2 in the best-of-7 series heading into Game 6 at United Center on Saturday (8 p.m. ET; NBC, SN, TVA Sports 2).
"We just got sloppy," said center Brad Richards, who scored the game's first goal at 13:27 of the first period. "[We] fed a lot of transition, outnumbered rushes, so we've got to get back to being stingier and paying attention to details with the puck."
The Blackhawks outshot the Predators for the first time in the series (30-29), but that was mainly because Nashville started playing to protect its three-goal lead in the third period. Nashville finished with more shot attempts (60-57), forced numerous turnovers and capitalized on Chicago penalties by scoring two power-play goals in four opportunities.
It was similar to the way the Predators won Game 2: They tested the Blackhawks in the first two periods with a lot of speed and aggression before breaking it open in the third. Nashville has outscored Chicago 7-1 in the past two third periods played in this arena, once against each of the Blackhawks' top two goalies.
Corey Crawford took the brunt of the storm in the second game; Game 5 was rookie Scott Darling's turn.
James Neal scored his second goal in as many games to start the flurry 47 seconds after the period began by beating Darling on a wraparound to make it 2-1. Neal caught Darling out of position and defenseman Duncan Keith couldn't keep the puck out of the net at the right post.
It was the first third-period goal allowed by Darling in the series; he gave up two more less than two minutes later, in a span of 12 seconds. Colin Wilson capped a power play at 3:02 with his fifth goal of the series and rookie Filip Forsberg provided the three-goal cushion by scoring the second of his three goals at 3:14, giving Nashville a 4-1 lead.
Forsberg's first goal was just as damaging as his second. After beating the Blackhawks to a loose puck off a faceoff won cleanly by Chicago center Marcus Kruger, he roofed a wrist shot past Darling to the short side, tying the game 1-1 just 1:15 after Richards had given Chicago the early lead.
"We just got a little out of control there," Richards said. "That's not necessarily why they scored the first goal out there, but we were sloppy and it kept them feeling it, feeling good because they had a lot of rush chances and they had the puck a lot."
Forsberg wrapped up the victory and completed his hat trick by scoring into an empty net during a power play with 10.3 seconds remaining. The Blackhawks came into the game 11-3 since 2008-09 in their first opportunity to clinch a series and 12-3 overall in potential series-clinching games in that span, all under Joel Quenneville.
They'll get another opportunity to end it in Game 6, and know their effort needs to be better to avoid a return to Nashville on Monday.
"We knew it was an important game," said right wing Patrick Kane, who set up Kris Versteeg's goal late in the third that made it 4-2. "I still think we gave them too much, even in the second period. They could've been up a couple goals. [It's] one of those things where we've got to be responsible in those situations. We can't give up anything, whether it's lazy plays not getting back, or plays where we're missing coverage. All of us, the forwards and defensemen, have to do a better job at that."
They need to recover physically as well. Keith led all players in ice time with 27:08 after playing 46:19 in the Blackhawks' 3-2 triple-overtime win in Game 4. The combined 73:27 equates to 45.5 percent of the 161:00 Chicago has played in the past two games.
Kane and forward Marian Hossa also logged a lot of minutes, but neither Quenneville nor the Blackhawks think it's an issue.
"Our start showed that," Richards said. "And they feel the same as us, so it doesn't matter."