The first period wasn’t pretty, but the final score was. In the end, the Chicago Blackhawks eliminated the Nashville Predators with a 4-3 comeback win on Saturday night.
Scott Darling allowed three goals in the game’s opening 11:16, which gave coach Joel Quenneville an opportunity to insert Corey Crawford into the lineup. With a goaltender change in the middle of the first period, the Hawks responded with the final two goals of the opening period and the game-winner in the third to send the Nashville Predators to their respective golf courses for the summer.
Nashville got off to a flying start, with James Neal scoring at even strength only 70 seconds into the game and again on the power play at 8:09 into the opening period. Patrick Sharp cut the lead in half, but only briefly; Matt Cullen scored the Preds’ third goal only 39 seconds after Sharps’ score to put Nashville up 3-1 and chase Darling.
Crawford entered, and his teammates responded.
Jonathan Toews scored a power play goal 58 seconds after Quenneville made a change between the pipes to bring the Hawks back to within one, and Patrick Kane tied the game with only six second left in the opening period.
Kane, Toews, Sharp and Duncan Keith ended the first period with two points each for Chicago. Neal was the only Nashville player with two points, both goals, in the game’s first 20 minutes.
The second period was relatively quiet. Chicago killed a Brad Richards penalty but still managed to out-shoot Nashville 12-7 in the period. Neither team was able to score in the second.
When the final period began, Nashville was ready to fight for their season but Chicago answered the bell. The Hawks allowed only four Preds shots to reach the net, and Keith scored his second of the series at 16:12 to give Chicago a 4-3 lead.
Crawford stood tall over the final four minutes and the Hawks were able to successfully complete the comeback elimination.
Pekka Rinne finished the night with 28 saves against 32 shots, and Crawford picked up his first victory of the series while stopping all 13 shots he faced over almost 49 minutes of action.
Toews had three hits and three points (one goal, two assists) but won only three of 15 faceoffs in the victory. Brandon Saad and Marian Hossa were each credited with five hits, and Saad finished with a team-high two takeaways in the win. Bryan Bickell was credited with a team-leading eight hits in the game, while Saad led Chicago with two takeaways.
Keith skated exactly 28 minutes and posted three points (one game-winning goal, two assists) and tied Niklas Hjalmarsson and Johnny Oduya for the team lead with two blocked shots. Keith also led the Hawks with six shots on net.
While Toews struggled at the dot, Antoine Vermette (won 13 of 20) and Brad Richards (won 13 of 19) played a significant role in the faceoff circle.