PREDATORS at BLACKHAWKS
(Nashville leads best-of-seven series, 1-0)
After the favored Blackhawks dropped the series opener, they'll be facing an enormous amount of pressure not to head to Nashville trailing 2-0 to the upstart Preds.
With Nashville on its fifth postseason appearance in the last six years, whispers are surfacing that it's time for Barry Trotz to take his team by the next level by finally winning a playoff series. If the Preds are feeling any of that pressure, it seemed unlikely in the taut series opener. Nashville and Chicago played a tense game from start to finish, but the Preds' relatively green roster showed little signs of cracking under the microscope, something that bodes well as Nashville now only has to win at home to reach the second round for first time in franchise history.
While J.P. Dumont's two goals are the most immediate information to jump off the scoresheet, Pekka Rinne
's performance in net was the clear difference. Going against fellow Finn Antti Niemi, Rinne was a rock in his first career playoff game, making 25 saves -- including an enormous poke check on a breakaway chance for Chicago's Patrick Sharp
. Rinne was solid all season for the Preds, racking up 32 wins in 58 appearances, meaning his Game 1 performance was far from an exaggeration. Given his track record, there's no reason to believe Rinne can't continue giving the Hawks fits.
With the Blackhawks pegged by many prognosticators as the Western Conference's representative in the 2010 Stanley Cup Final, starting the postseason with a loss at the United Center, where Chicago was a conference-best 29-8-4 this season, was an unexpected development. The task now rests with Joel Quenneville to remind his players that playoff losses happen -- no team has ever gone 16-0 en route to a Cup. In fact, these same Hawks dropped Game 1 in last year's conference semifinals against Vancouver before taking the series in six games.
An even bigger task, however, may lie in keeping Niemi level-headed after he allowed Nashville to tie Game 1 on a fluky bouncing puck in the third period. Many goalies, most notably Swedish netminder Tommy Salo, have seen their careers derailed by mental doubts after surrendering bad goals in big spots.
If the Hawks can keep perspective and avoid a panicked mindset, they may be able to focus on the real problem of getting their offense moving against Rinne. Chicago was stymied on several quality chances in Game 1, and the Hawks, who finished the regular season third in the League in scoring, must score in bunches again to square the series before flying to the Music City.
While Dumont had two of Nashville's goals, including the game-winner, don't overlook the contributions of the man who has been a Pred the longest. David Legwand
, the franchise's first ever draft pick, had two assists Friday, including one on Dumont's decisive tally.
There have been reports that Chicago's Brian Campbell (broken collarbone) may return to the ice this series, a potentially enormous boon for the Hawks' blue line, but it won't be happening in Game 2. Chicago will also be without defenseman Kim Johnsson, who is still suffering from concussion-like symptoms. … Nashville's Denis Grebeshkov is listed as questionable for Sunday with a lower-body injury.
Nashville managed to pull out a win in Game 1 despite giving up the first goal, but the Preds may not want to rest on their laurels and assume they can turn the trick again. That kind of performance is a rarity against Chicago, which was 40-9-7 in the regular season when netting the opening tally.
With their upset win in Game 1, Nashville showed it clearly belonged on the same ice as the Central Division champs, but while a win is a win, the game's 4-1 final score belies how tight the matchup was for its first 59 minutes. Were it not for one or two funny bounces, the Hawks could easily be looking just to hold serve before hitting the road for Games 3 and 4. If Chicago can't find a way to solve Rinne however, the presumptive Cup contender will be halfway to a shocking first-round exit.