Game Three turned sour in the second period for the Nashville Predators.
Shortly after Nashville had answered a Chicago Blackhawks goal to tie the contest again, the Hawks rattled off two-straight scores en route to a 4-2 victory in Game Three and a 2-1 series lead.
As has been the case for their first three contests in this Western Conference Quarterfinals series, the Predators liked the majority of their effort put forth versus the Blackhawks on Sunday afternoon.
“I think it was pretty even on both sides,” forward Mike Ribeiro said. “They capitalized on their scoring chances, they had a few [turnovers] there and we couldn’t bury them, but they played well. I think we played well, maybe too many shifts in our zone too long, maybe we need to simplify some things, but other than that I thought it was pretty even.”
Three goals for the Hawks on transition plays haunted the Predators in Game Three and thwarted Nashville’s two early rallies.
“[The Blackhawks] played a fast game tonight,” Nashville Head Coach Peter Laviolette said. “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.”
In the game’s first 21 minutes, the Predators didn’t stay down long either time the Blackhawks jumped out to a lead.
Nashville knotted the score in mere seconds twice after falling behind a goal. Ribeiro evened the game 31 seconds after Andrew Desjardins put the Hawks ahead 1-0; in the opening minute of the second period, Mattias Ekholm tied things again, 22 ticks removed from Jonathan Toews’ second of the playoffs.
After holding their first two leads of the series for a combined 53 seconds, three minutes into the second the Blackhawks finally pulled away.
Hawks forward Brandon Saad cut up the left wing with speed and beat Pekka Rinne high for a 3-2 advantage. Nine minutes later, Brent Seabrook’s try from the high slot added the insurance marker.
Another three-goal second period proved to be the ultimate issue for Nashville on Sunday. The Hawks have outscored the Preds 7-2 in the second period in the series.
Once Chicago entered the final frame with the lead, the Blackhawks locked down the game defensively and improved to 26-0-0, combined with the 2014-15 regular season, when holding an advantage after 40 minutes.
“Tip your cap to them, they played well,” defenseman Cody Franson said. “They didn’t give us a lot tonight and they played a fast game all night, but a lot of what they got came from us trying to do something a little extra and not keeping it simple. Puck management is big against these guys and with that amount of skill that they have up front, it’s paramount to manage the puck well.”
The 4-2 win for the Hawks proved to be the next chapter in a playoff series that will resume on Tuesday. Nashville responded excellently after losing Game One at home, and they'll aim to do the same at the United Center two days from now.
“We’ve got to win hockey games,” Laviolette said. “That’s the playoffs, right? We’ve got to win. There are things we can do better and we can play better. I believe that, and we’ll look to fix some things and come back two days from now and look to even the series.”
With two assists on Sunday, Craig Smith registered his fourth and fifth points of the postseason. Accompanying a three-point performance on Friday night, the five points have the 25-year-old winger as the NHL’s leading scorer in the playoffs.
With 3.67 goals-for per game in the playoffs, Nashville ranks as the No. 1 offense among the 16 playoff teams.
Mattias Ekholm scored his first career postseason goal at 0:58 of the second period. Mike Ribeiro’s slapper was his first of the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs and seventh of his career.
Victor Bartley logged his first career playoff game skating on a paring with Cody Franson. Nashville Captain Shea Weber missed the contest with a lower-body injury that will keep him out of at least Game Four as well.
Mike Fisher (lower-body, day-to-day), Eric Nystrom (lower-body), Kevin Fiala and Anton Volchenkov also did not suit up for the matinee matchup.
Rookie goaltender Scott Darling made 35 saves for his second win of the playoffs. The 26-year-old was named the Game Three starter after winning Game One with 42 saves in a relief performance.
Game Four in the series is set for an 8:30 p.m. (CT) start time on Tuesday at the United Center.