Saturday, April 17, 2010

Preds\Hawks Game 1 thoughts

0-10.  15 goals for.  33 goals against.

These were the rather the foreboding statistics that greeted the Predators as they took the ice in front of a frenzied crowd of 22K+ at the United Center. The road had been cruel to the Predators in postseasons past, and these numbers likely resonated in the collective minds of the Preds as loudly as the steady-building roar accompanying the Star Spangled Banner.  With a host so hostile, and history an unkind reminder to past defiency, the odds were not on the side of the Nashville Predators.

Maybe that's why gambling is such a successful pursuit for some.

Eventually, the odds always turn, and that's what happened for the Preds last night.  No one will claim it was a perfectly executed game on the part of the Preds, but they consistently stuck to their gameplan, frustrating the Hawks offense at every turn.  I actually kept a running count of the amount of times at even strength that the Hawks were able to get set up for any sort of meaningful attack.  Five.  Five times.  Sure, there were inopportune turnovers.  Pekka was forced to make highlight-reel saves on both Sharp and Toews, but with all things considered regarding the offensive weaponry at the disposal of the Blackhawks, I think the Predators were able to mitigate their chances effectively.  A banner statistic for Chicago coming into the game was that they boasted the highest shot differential in the league - 34 for, 25 against, for a total of plus 9.  The fact that the Predators matched them at 26 speaks to the way they were able to manage the game.  Aside from a few dangerous chances and close calls, the Hawks never really sustained any pressure.  Their modus operandi is fierce puck possession, something the Predators rarely allowed.  It wasn't all pretty-- there was a stretch in the second period, shortly after the Hawks scored, that the Preds looked on their heels a bit.  Dumont's lucky(let's face it, the bounce went our way on that one) first goal couldn't have come at a better time.  The timing and nature of that goal did a good deal to deflate the confidence and spirit of the Hawks and their fans.  It was nice to finally get a bounce in our favor, for once.

Niemi was thought to be the Blackhawks' weak spot, but the loss can't really be pinned on the Finnish rookie.  Chicago coach Joel Quenneville basically said as much in his postgame comments, laying forth the vote of confidence.  As mentioned, Dumont's first goal came off a strange bounce on "terrible ice," according to Steve Sullivan.  The second goal should be blamed more on the lackadaisical turnover of Troy Brouwer.

There were a lot of positives to be taken away from last night, but I'd like to particularly recognize a few players.  David Legwand told the Tennessean before the game that he was looking at the playoffs as a "clean slate."  He acknowledge that the season didn't go the way he would have liked offensively, and he wanted to find another gear.  He delivered, turning in one of his strongest games of the year.  He was rewarded with 2 assists and a plus-3 rating, to lead all skaters.  Similarly, former Blackhawks JP Dumont and Steve Sullivan came back to haunt their former team with great efforts.  Both Sully and JP struggled with consistency this season, and by their own admission were a bit disappointing offensively, but attained a nice bit of redemption in game one.

While the excitement of game one is still fresh in everyone's mind, Barry Trotz's admonishment to keep a "short memory" is important.  That may be one particular benefit gained from the volume of games played in March.  There was never too much time to relish in a victory or dwell on a loss.  Chicago plans on juggling some lines and changing their approach, and it's guaranteed that they'll come out with an intensity that we likely didn't see in game one.  The important thing for the Preds is to remember what got them the win in game one-- stay the course, be patient, and play Predators hockey.  If they do that, and continue to limit the time and space given to the Blackhawks, there is no reason that they can't head home for game 3 with a 2-0 series lead.

The nailbiting resumes tomorrow at 7:30 PM in the Windy City.

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