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Weber's absence hurts Predators in Game 3 loss

by Robby Stanley /

CHICAGO -- The Nashville Predators struggled to slow down the Chicago Blackhawks without defenseman Shea Weber in a 4-2 loss in Game 3 of their Western Conference First Round series.

Weber left Game 2 with a lower-body injury in the second period and did not make the trip to Chicago for Games 3 and 4.

Chicago took a 2-1 lead in the best-of-7 series and was able to capitalize against Nashville's top defense pairing of Roman Josi and Seth Jones, who was promoted in Weber's absence.

The Blackhawks scored three times in the second period to grab a 4-2 lead, and Jones and Josi were on the ice for the first two, as well as Andrew Desjardins' first-period goal.

"Obviously Shea's a big player, so I think we're going to miss him on our back end," Josi said. "I don't know, I thought we played a pretty good game. It could have gone the other way too. We had a lot of chances and couldn't capitalize on our chances in the second period. I didn't think we played that poor in the second. We had a lot of chances too. They just capitalized."

Nashville goaltender Pekka Rinne allowed four goals on 30 shots and has a 2.91 goals-against average and .898 save percentage through the first three games of the series. He felt the defense corps did well without Weber in the lineup.

"I thought that our [defense] did a good job," Rinne said. "Obviously [Weber] is a world-class player and any team would miss him, but I think overall we have as good of a [defense] corps as any team in the League. I thought that the guys did a good job."

Three of Chicago's four goals came on the rush or in transition off Nashville turnovers. The Blackhawks were able to force turnovers with back pressure and turn those transition opportunities into goals.

The Predators didn't protect the puck as well as they had in Games 1 and 2.

"Some of [the turnovers] they forced with their back pressure. We get in and they'd push things from behind and it pops out, and they're quick to counter. They're a possession team. They played a fast game tonight. I think it caught us a couple times. Even when we got pucks on the walls, it seemed like their speed from behind caused some quick turnovers, and they were able to come back at us."

The Blackhawks' top line of Brandon Saad, Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa combined for two goals and three assists in Game 3. Jones and Josi played the majority of the time against Chicago's top line, and each was minus-3.

"I guess we've got to have a little better coverage in our [defensive] zone and just try to keep them away from our net and not let them go in the interior," Josi said. "They've got a lot of skilled forwards. They're going to create chances. We've just got to make sure to limit them."

The Blackhawks' zone entries were better in Game 3, and that allowed them to create more high-quality looks. The back pressure applied against the Predators prevented them from getting the puck deep in the offensive zone, and that fueled the Chicago attack.

Josi knows the Predators have to be better in that area in Game 4.

"Get the pucks deep and have better gaps so they can't enter the zone," Josi said. "If they enter the zone, they have a lot of skilled players that can make plays. You saw that; they scored on kind of three rush goals, so we've just got to have a good gap and eliminate them walking into the zone."

The second period has become a major issue for Nashville lately. The Predators have been outscored 18-4 in the second in the past 10 games and were outscored 3-1 in the second period Sunday. They got some offensive chances but weren't able to capitalize against Blackhawks rookie goaltender Scott Darling, and they were victimized by turnovers that led to Chicago goals.

"It's just communication, as far as being in the zone and making good decisions," Predators forward Craig Smith said. "I think at times supporting the puck and staying in front of it can be a huge part of the game. We were jumping. We were making a push, trying to score goals, trying to get aggressive. Sometimes that's going to happen, and vice versa. I thought we had some good chances off of them too. Sometimes that's just the way it goes."

The Predators know they have to play better defense in Game 4. They have an opportunity to even the series 2-2 and regain home-ice advantage.

"It's really big," Rinne said. "It's big for both teams. For us, a chance to again tie it up and come back home. That's our goal. Obviously we have to regroup again. I thought we had good energy today. We just have to keep it together for 60 minutes and we'll be good."

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