Hawks know they need to start scoring and stop chasing vs. Preds

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — All aspects of the Blackhawks’ game were predictably and understandably being picked apart after surprising losses in two home games in their first-round series against the eighth-seeded Predators.

Can they defeat the neutral-zone trap? How can they avoid getting shots blocked? Do they need to score the first goal? Should their defenseman be more offensive-minded? Can they get more odd-man rushes? How do you create time and space in the playoffs?

Those are all legitimate issues the Hawks are going to have to deal with to get themselves back in this series. But while we’re trying to find white-board answers, the Hawks are just trying to keep it simple and avoid paralysis by analysis.

“I think sometimes you think about that too much. It’s still hockey,” Kane said when asked about creating time and space. “It’s still the game you’ve been playing all year.

Blackhawks forward Patrick Kane (88) checks Predators defenseman Mattias Ekholm (14) in Game 1 of their first-round series at the United Center last Thursday night. (Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

“Maybe there’s a little bit more desperation, a little bit more intensity. It seems like teams are a little bit more focused on certain players throughout the playoffs. You get in a situation where you have the puck or you’re trying to get it back, I think it’s still pretty much the same game.

“So better to realize that and try to not put too much emphasis on it being playoff hockey or they’re going to play it hard or more intense. Just play the game we know how to play.”

Mired in a little difficulty — actually a lot of difficulty — after losing Games 1 and 2 of the series at the United Center, the Hawks were relying heavily on their vaunted mental toughness to snap out of a playoff funk that threatens to become a mental hump even they can’t get over.

They’re not going to put any more pressure on themselves than already exists. After the Predators parlayed a first-period goal into victory in Games 1 and 2, the Hawks know the importance of scoring first in Game 3. But rather than focus on that, they’ll just try and play hockey and see what happens.

“We want to score the first goal obviously regardless, no matter what game it is,” Kane said. “We think it could be important, especially in this series.  “But if it doesn’t happen, what are you going to do about it? I don’t think it’s anything that’s going to get in our head or anything. Just play the same way and eventually something’s going to break.”

The Hawks need to start scoring and stop chasing. They trailed for 108 of the 120 minutes in the first two games, more than 90 percent of the game. Even in falling behind 3-1 against the Blues last year, the Hawks only trailed for 40 of 189 minutes — 21.3 percent of the game.

Scoring first is a winning formula in the NHL — teams that scored the first goal were 64-27 (.703)  in last year’s playoffs. And the Hawks have been among the best. They were 48-12 (.800) when they score first and 20-32 (.385) when they don’t in the previous eight postseasons under Joel Quenneville. Recently, they’ve been even better — 34-7 (.829) when they score first and 12-19 (.387) when they don’t since the start of the 2013 playoffs.

But it’s all about playing hockey.

“Of course we want to play ahead,” Hawks captain Jonathan Toews said. “But we have had the first periods we’ve been looking for in the first two games. It has to be energy, speed and just that competitive nature has to kick in right away and we can’t wait for them to wake us up. We’ll start with that and try to, in some ways, be the guys that frustrate and agitate them a little bit.”

Follow me on Twitter @MarkPotash

Email: mpotash@suntimes.com

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