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Playoff loss to Blackhawks sticks with Predators

by Brian Hedger /
CHICAGO -- Some might think enough time has passed for the Nashville Predators to finally let go of their first-round loss to the Chicago Blackhawks last season.
Evidently, that's not the case.
In fact, listening to Nashville forward Steve Sullivan talk on Wednesday, it might take a lot longer for the Predators to forgive and forget what happened in that series -- including a gut-wrenching, shocking overtime loss in Game 5.
"There's a lot of factors that go into it," Sullivan said, hours before the Preds tried to beat Chicago for a third time this season tonight at the United Center. "But let's not forget the playoffs are not that far removed and it hurt. You don't forget about something like that very quickly. It's still something that everyone thinks about every time we see these guys. That's definitely in the back of our minds for sure."
Nashville comes into the game ahead by just one point in the Central Division standings and is also 2-0 against the Hawks this season. The Preds downed Chicago in a shootout on Nov. 13 in Nashville and also in regulation on Oct. 13 at the United Center -- when Joel Ward scored the go-ahead goal with just 26.7 seconds left.
Ward's game-winner provided some measure of revenge, but it didn't erase all of what happened. Especially the way the Hawks won that Game 5 at the United Center, which gave them a 3-2 series lead going to Nashville for Game 6.
Chicago trailed by a goal with time running out. Marian Hossa was called for a boarding major for driving defenseman Dan Hamhuis headfirst into the boards behind the Nashville goal. The Predators wanted Hossa ejected, but he went to the penalty box for five minutes instead.
Then it all unraveled for the Preds. Patrick Kane scored the game-tying goal with 13 seconds left while the Hawks were shorthanded. Hossa won it in overtime after he'd just gotten out of the box.
Nashville then dropped Game 6 to end the series and watched the Hawks win the Stanley Cup three series later. Hamhuis left for the Vancouver Canucks as a free agent, but the Predators still haven't moved on completely.
"I think it's how it ended," Sullivan said. "We really think that we should have won that series, plain and simple. We thought we were the better hockey club in that series. I'm not saying they didn't go on to play better hockey than that, but in that series, my own personal opinion … I thought we were the better team. We let 'em off the hook on more than one occasion."
None bigger than in Game 5.
Both Hossa and Kane will miss tonight's game with lower-body injuries, but their absence still doesn't ease Nashville's angst. The Preds have long memories.
"It's not just losing in overtime," said Sullivan, who didn't participate in Wednesday's optional skate but made sure to clarify that he'll be on the ice against the Hawks despite a lingering lower-body injury. "It's the whole scenario leading into overtime (of Game 5) and then losing, with so little time left for them to tie the hockey game. It's the whole package. That's why it hurts so much, and that's why you don't forget. The more it hurts, the longer it takes to forget."
The Blackhawks, meanwhile, are well aware of how their Central Division rivals feel after playing them twice already. Despite coming off back-to-back wins against the Detroit Red Wings and Los Angeles Kings, the Hawks know the Preds are still on the hunt to pay them back.
"With what happened last year in the playoffs, obviously they're not happy with us as a team," Hawks forward Troy Brouwer said. "We're expecting that … we're expecting a hard-nosed team like they always are. They were able to beat us early on in the season and we haven't forgotten that."
Stalberg out: Hawks forward Viktor Stalberg (upper body) will not play against the Preds despite saying he feels OK to go. Chicago coach Joel Quenneville wants him to continue recovering and also likes the way his team has played the past two games with Stalberg sidelined -- both wins.
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