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Predators turn up defense on Blackhawks

Penalty kill in third period, big saves by Pekka Rinne help win Game 1

by Shawn P. Roarke @sroarke_nhl / NHL.com Director of Editorial

CHICAGO -- Few Chicago Blackhawks fans in United Center could find anything redeeming in what the Nashville Predators were doing in the second half of the third period of Game 1 of the Western Conference First Round.

But for the Predators, there was beauty amidst the chaos enveloping their end of the ice as the Blackhawks searched in vain for the tying goal in what would become a 1-0 loss on Thursday.

 

[RELATED: Complete Predators vs. Blackhawks series coverage]

 

"The playoffs are about desperation and about anything you can do to the win the game," said Austin Watson, a forward who shouldered some of the defensive load against the high-flying Blackhawks. "It doesn't matter how pretty it is, it just matters that you get the win.

"If it takes some blocked shots, if it takes some good defense, and obviously we don't want to play as much defense as we did but, at the end of day, Game 1, a win in our books."

The Predators won because they survived a frenetic final 8:08 by turning up the defensive intensity that had carried them to that point.

Viktor Arvidsson, who scored at 7:52 of the first period, was penalized for tripping Artem Anisimov while making a diving attempt to block an expected shot.

Video: NSH@CHI, Gm1: Arvidsson tips in Forsberg's sweet dish

Nashville, which lost playoff series to Chicago in 2015 and 2010, and lost four of five regular-season games this season, was all too familiar with this scenario.

The Predators had the lead but needed to be perfect on the penalty kill, considering the Blackhawks have two power-play units that are the envy of most teams.

The Blackhawks took the ice with a swagger in their stride as the United Center faithful bellowed for an equalizer.

The game rested with Nashville's penalty killers. If they wanted to win the game, if they wanted to record the first road shutout in their history, they had to deliver.

Defense had defined the Predators to this point. They blocked shots, took away time and space and kept the Blackhawks, for the most part, to the perimeter. Now they had to do it again if they wanted to take a series lead into Game 2 in Chicago on Saturday.

"Obviously you want to kill a penalty every time but up by one late in the third period, it's a huge kill," defenseman Ryan Ellis said.

Ellis began the effort by blocking a Brent Seabrook shot. The puck exited the zone and the Blackhawks had to regroup, but Watson broke up another attack.

"Generally, as a penalty killer, you want to take away time and space, especially with the skilled guys they have over there," Watson said. "If you give them a ton of time they are going to be able to make plays."

Chicago gained the zone again but Ellis cleared the puck, and the forechecking of Calle Jarnkrok killed additional time.

On Chicago's next rush, Nashville's Mattias Ekholm dove to push away a dangerous centering pass, Jarnkrok cleared a loose puck away from the net, P.K. Subban won yet another 50-50 race to the puck and Roman Josi blocked a shot from Anisimov.

The power play ended without the Blackhawks getting a shot on goal.

Video: NSH@CHI, Gm1: Rinne shuts out the Hawks in Game 1

Nashville forward Filip Forsberg said the kill delivered a jolt to the bench and provided the momentum for the final few minutes.

And the Predators would need it.

Coach Joel Quenneville pulled goaltender Corey Crawford with 2:02 remaining, in effect, giving the Blackhawks another power play.

Though the Blackhawks put two shots on net with the extra skater, they could not beat Predators goaltender Pekka Rinne, who made 29 saves for his second shutout in 49 playoff games.

Rinne turned aside a slap shot from Patrick Kane, then denied Marian Hossa, who skated in from the corner to the doorstep of the crease. Rinne covered the puck as bodies collapsed around him. When the whistle finally blew, Arvidsson was straddling Hossa, making sure he did not get another swipe at the puck.

"We had to do our best to defend and I thought we did an excellent job," said Ellis, who played 26:12. "And when we didn't, [Rinne] was there."

After the save on Hossa, which came with 61 seconds left, the game devolved into a series of icings and faceoffs.

Four times Nashville's Mike Fisher lined up across from Chicago captain Jonathan Toews, who has won the Stanley Cup three times, in part, by doing the little things his team needed, like winning faceoffs.

But not this time, and not on this night.

Fisher won two of the faceoffs cleanly and tied up Toews long enough on the other two to defuse a quick-strike shot.

"As penalty killers, we know we need to be good and that is a crucial point in the game," Watson said. "We were able to get the job done."

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