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Preds Lose Fisher, Game One in Double OT

by Thomas Willis / Nashville Predators

Duncan Keith’s goal at 7:49 of double overtime capped off quite the comeback for the Chicago Blackhawks on Wednesday night.

The Nashville Predators saw the Hawks overcome a 3-0 deficit by notching four-straight goals to claim a 1-0 series lead in Game One of the Western Conference Quarterfinals.

“I thought our guys played hard tonight,” Nashville Head Coach Peter Laviolette said. “There was a stretch in the second period there when we lost our way, but I think we did a good job of getting back on the train we needed to be on in order to be successful. The third period, the overtimes, we had a lot of chances to score. You have to give their goaltender credit.”

A three-goal second period by the Blackhawks matched the Preds trio of scores in the game’s first 20 minutes. Nashville began Game One with a roaring start, initially finding the back of the net six minutes in with Colin Wilson’s first of the playoffs.

“Other than the second period, I thought we played a really good game,” Predators Captain Shea Weber said. “I thought 5-on-5, we had some really good chances to win it. It just didn’t go our way, and we have to move past it. We have to put it behind us. In the playoffs, it’s short term.”

With Wilson bursting through the neutral zone, Hawks blueliner Michal Rozsival turned inside and then out as the forward rushed past him on the wing. Once clear of the defense, Wilson went top shelf from a sharp angle for a 1-0 Nashville advantage. The 25-year-old forward wasn’t finished, however.

Sandwiched around Viktor Stalberg’s first of the playoffs, Wilson notched his second on a deflection off a Seth Jones’ point shot to give the Preds a three-goal lead.

As the opening period concluded, the Predators were off to an ideal start, but the Blackhawks responded definitively in the middle frame.

Less than two minutes into the second, Niklas Hjalmarsson one-timed a puck in the low slot off a centering feed from Teuvo Teravainen to end the Preds run. Next, two power-play tallies in a five-minute span drew the Hawks all the way back and into a tie.

“I think there was a lot of reason to be angry,” Chicago winger Patrick Sharp said. “You know, Game One of the playoffs and we’re down 3-0 pretty quick. It was a character win, nice to battle back, and a big shot by [Keith] in overtime.”

The Central Division rivals then stayed deadlocked for the next forty-plus minutes with the Preds unable to find the game-winning marker. Hawks goaltender Scott Darling, who came on in relief of Corey Crawford to begin the second period, stopped all 42 shots he faced, including point-blank chances for Ryan Ellis and Filip Forsberg.

Finally, with roughly eight minutes gone in the second edition of extra time, Keith’s point shot found its way through traffic and into the cage.

“You would rather be sitting in a different position for sure, but it’s only one game,” Laviolette said. “We’re going to come in to work tomorrow, we’re going to get ready, pull a lot of positives from the game tonight, but we have to win hockey games as well.”

“We have to gain some confidence,” Nashville goaltender Pekka Rinne said. “I thought that we played a really good game. Especially 5-on-5, we had a lot of good looks and chances. We had a lot of opportunities, but it just didn’t go our way tonight. Now we have to focus on Friday. It’s going to be a new day tomorrow.”

Fisher’s Absence Felt:

The dominant performance by Nashville in the opening 20 minutes changed soon after the second period began, and not coincidentally, around the point Mike Fisher was forced to leave with a lower-body injury.

Boasting the most playoff experience on the Preds roster, Nashville’s second line center plays a two-way game that’s invaluable in the postseason. Not only did the Predators lose a needed presence on both sides of the puck when Fisher went to the locker room, but they also were forced to play the next 45 minutes and change with 11 forwards.

Playoff hockey is exhausting enough. Throw in overtime and a shortened bench and you have a tall task ahead.

“That was big,” Laviolette said of losing Fisher. “You could go down a checklist of things that you need from players on the ice from faceoffs, leadership, power play, penalty kill, and you just keep checking the boxes when Mike comes out of the lineup, so those are some big shoes to fill.

“We used some different people in there; Matt Cullen got a lot of it and I thought he did an excellent job jumping up there and helping to fill that position. Certainly to lose him with a regulation time of two periods, that’s a lot, but then to go to the first overtime and half of a second overtime, that is a big piece out of our lineup.”

The 34-year-old center missed the Preds final two regular season games with a lower-body injury, but returned to play 5:32 in Game One before exiting. Fisher’s linemate, Wilson, agreed that the veteran’s play and leadership were missed.

“Anytime you go to 11 forwards and more guys are playing, and you go to double OT, it hurts,” Wilson said.

End Game:

Game One against Chicago marked the third-longest contest in Predators franchise history, with a gameplay time of 87:49.

The Preds are now 1-2 in double overtime games all-time, including 0-2 at home. Nashville has never played a triple overtime game.

The Preds set a club playoff record with 54 shots on goal.

Colin Wilson tied a franchise record with two goals in a single playoff game, while James Neal tied a club mark with nine shots in a postseason contest. Filip Forsberg set a new franchise rookie record for single shots on goal in a playoff game with seven.

Game Two is set for an 8:30 p.m. CT puck drop on Friday night from Bridgestone Arena.

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