The Chicago Blackhawks
were the talk of the League this past week, with many forecasting the talented young team would sip from its first Stanley Cup in 49 years.
Nobody said much about the Nashville Predators
, who came into this Western Conference Quarterfinal series as the seventh seed. The Predators were supposed to be the first step on the Hawks' path to coronation, but that vision has been altered significantly.
The "underdog" Predators drew first blood on Friday and look to back the Hawks into a corner Sunday night in Game 2 at the United Center. Chicago is now faced with what amounts to a must-win game before the action shifts back to Nashville.
Going down 0-2 in a seven-game series is like asking to get beaten, and both teams know it.
"I don't think you even have to talk about it. It's the reality of it," Nashville coach Barry Trotz
said following Saturday's practice. "Today we just corrected some things and (watched) some film. We didn't even talk about (Game 1). We're worried about tomorrow night's game. We're coming here to have our best game tomorrow. The games get harder. They don't get easier. It'll be harder for us and it'll be harder for them."
That's probably the biggest reason why Hawks coach Joel Quenneville
plans to shake up his lineup somewhat, reuniting the defense tandem of Brent Seabrook
and Duncan Keith
. It might only be the second game of the series, but its importance is extremely high for the Hawks.
"We all know what it's going to take now, and maybe it's a good thing for us to lose the first game just to get the jitters out," Hawks center Jonathan Toews
said. "Now we feel like we've got nothing to lose. It's not the scenario we want, but it's a seven-game series. Tomorrow night we'll definitely get things back on track."
Even if they do, what little pressure there might have been on the Predators is long gone by now. They've already wrested home ice away from the Hawks, and going up 2-0 would just be gravy.
"We respect their team, but we know that we can play against them," said Predators goaltender Pekka Rinne
, who stopped 25 of 26 shots in his Stanley Cup Playoffs debut. "We feel pretty confident."
They should. Aside from the fevered pitch of the crowd during the national anthem on Friday night, Hawks fans were almost completely silenced thanks to Nashville's defensive success clogging up the ice. That silence started turning to jeers in the third period, when the Predators turned the tables on the Hawks and started beating them at their own puck-possession game.
All in all, it couldn't have gone much better for the Predators -- whom Trotz labeled as "rusty" after playing just two games in 13 days prior to Friday night.
"One of the biggest things that we focus on is trying to take away time and space," Nashville defenseman Ryan Suter
said. "They have so much talent over there that if you give 'em too much time and space, they're going to pick you apart. That was a big thing for us. Get in their face and don't let them make plays."
Newbies no more --
Rinne's inexperience in the playoffs was a big topic in the week leading up to the series opener, but seven Predators in all made their postseason debuts in the Game 1 win.
Along with Rinne, defensemen Cody Franson
and Kevin Klein
got their feet wet along with forwards Patric Hornqvist
, Nick Spaling
, Joel Ward
and Colin Wilson
. Hornqvist had been questionable with an upper-body injury, but played 13:01.
"From an individual perspective, getting that feeling that you belong is the No. 1 thing," Trotz said. "You get that out of the way. It's like getting your (driver's) license, if you will, and driving for the first time by yourself and finding out, ‘Hey, I can do this.'"
Deja vu all over again --
Hawks goalie Antti Niemi
said it was "tough" dealing with the puck that bounced past him into the net off the stick of J.P. Dumont, but it wasn't the first time it happened to him this season at the United Center.
Niemi relieved Cristobal Huet
and won 6-5 against Calgary on Oct. 12, but he said the Flames scored a similar goal to Dumont's in that game.
"I'd never had that happen before this season," he said.
Suter said the Predators were trying to get Dumont to recreate the shot during Saturday's practice, but to no avail.
"It was just one of those lucky bounces," Suter said. "You could sit out there all day trying to do it again and not have it go in."
No 'Soupy' yet --
Injured Hawks defenseman Brian Campbell
(collarbone, rib) again skated with the team during a full practice Saturday and also did additional work on his own before practice began.
Still, "Soupy" is not ready to return to games just yet. Campbell and Quenneville said he was out for Game 2, with neither setting a timeline for a return.
"I won't play tomorrow," Campbell said. "If I give you timelines and I don't meet those, then I not only disappoint the fans and myself, but also my teammates. It puts everybody in a bad situation."
How'd Saturday go?
"You have your good days and bad days, (and) today was a good day," said Campbell, who normally plays the point on the Hawks' power play. "It was my hardest practice out there (yet)."
Chicago is also missing defenseman Kim Johnsson
, who's been out since mid-March with what is believed to be concussion-like symptoms.
Searching for the power -- The Hawks worked on their power play a good deal during Saturday's workout after going 0-for-2 with the extra man in Game 1.