It’s easy to look at the Blackhawks roster and get star-gazed; Kane, Toews, Hossa, Keith, and so on. A lot of people, including myself, fell into that trap making predictions a week ago.
It’s games like last night in Nashville, though, that remind you that heart and extraordinary work ethic can outweigh talent at this stage in the game.
Game 3 was very similar to the third period of Game 1 in Chi-town. The Preds were able to play their puck-pursuit game, taking the ‘Hawks away from their puck-possession game. Nashville beat Chicago to the loose pucks in this game, and was also able to push the pace without yielding many golden opportunities for the ‘Hawks.
The defense was outstanding last night, specifically Shea Weber. He imposed his will on the ‘Hawks, racking up five hits (including a biggie on Kane), dominating in his own zone, and scoring a crucial second period goal to put the Preds up 3-1. If you didn’t think Weber was the real deal before this game, you do know.
One player that has come out of his shell in this series is David Legwand. Statistically, Chicago is probably one of his more favorite teams to play. He was huge for the Preds in all three zones, having a direct effect on the first two goals (one of which he scored). Leggy finished the game with three points, and was rightfully named the first star of the game. He has to keep up his great play for the Preds to ultimately advance.
Pekka Rinne out-dueled his countryman, Antti Niemi, once again. Rinne made numerous big saves, including a couple big ones early on. He did almost score on himself, but we’ll leave it at that.
Nashville’s power play once again struggled, but you can take away some positives after this game. They created many opportunities on the man advantage, and even created some momentum which led to the first goal of the game, from Joel Ward. If they get it going in Game 4, it’ll pay huge dividends.
Finally, the crowd inside Bridgestone Arena was phenomenal. No, it wasn’t a sellout, and I’m not the only that’s irked by that. But I honestly can’t remember a better atmosphere – from start to finish – in that building.
I’ve attended every playoff game in Nashville, and last night was truly special. The noise level was off the charts before the team even came out on the ice, and it stayed that way throughout the game. ‘Smashville’ even had two of its infamous TV timeout ovations, as well!
The crowd in Nashville, as much as any other team in the league, can carry the Preds in stretches of games. I can’t imagine what Thursday will be like.
Chicago knows what they have to do on Thursday – win. How can they do that?
First off, they have to be more physical (the Preds out-hit the ‘Hawks 32-18). Also, they have to get on the board first. That would give them a confidence boost, and subdue the crowd a bit. If they fail to come away victorious, it’ll be tough for them to claw back in this series… really tough!
Nashville definitely bounced back well from a disappointing Game 2 loss with the 4-1 win (even without leading goal-scorer Patric Hornqvist). The game was sealed when Martin Erat scored on a penalty shot late in the game, capping off their outstanding 60-minute effort.
Barry Trotz’s club is in unfamiliar territory, leading a series after three games for the first time in franchise history. How they deal with that will be a big key. If they don’t try to sit on the series lead and attack Niemi again, they just might have a stranglehold on the ‘Hawks heading back to Chicago.