After blowing two early leads, Blackhawks find one with staying power

SHARE After blowing two early leads, Blackhawks find one with staying power
SHARE After blowing two early leads, Blackhawks find one with staying power

Andrew Desjardins didn’t expect a parade to celebrate his first goal with the Blackhawks. But the Hawks fourth-line center didn’t even have any time to at least enjoy the moment.

Desjardins was back on the ice immediately after his first playoff goal in four years gave the Hawks a 1-0 lead over the Predators with 5:12 left in the first period. And just 31 seconds later he was heading back to the bench in disappointment after Predators center Mike Ribeiro beat Scott Darling to tie the game.

The Hawks did little to dispel their reputation as a team that can’t stand prosperity early in Sunday’s 4-2 victory over the Predators at the United Center that gave them a 2-1 lead in their first-round playoff series. When Jonathan Toews scored 24 seconds into the second period to give the Hawks a 2-1 lead, the Predators needed only 22 seconds to respond — with Mattias Ekholm scoring for a 2-2 tie.

“It kind of deflates you,” forward Brandon Saad said. “But at the same time, it’s happened before and we know we have to move on and brush it aside.”

Sometimes the Hawks are able to do that and sometimes they’re not. Their penchant for killing their own momentum and their failure to hold a lead was an annoying bugaboo throughout the playoffs last year — most notably in Game 2 against the Kings in the Western Conference final when the Hawks blew an early 2-0 lead and the Kings ended up scoring six unanswered goals in a 6-2 victory that turned that fateful series around.

The degree-of-difficulty was a little lower in this game, with the unproven Predators playing without their best player — all-star defenseman Shea Weber — and their best two-way forward — center Mike Fisher. But despite the Hawks’ championship pedigree, they are capable of that kind of discombobulation against anybody, especially early in the postseason. So it is of some significance that the Hawks didn’t allow a letdown to turn into a bigger problem.

After Saad rifled a shot past Predators goaltender Pekka Rinne to give the Hawks a 3-2 lead early in the second period, the Hawks not only avoided giving it right back, but extended the lead to 4-2 when Brent Seabrook scored from the slot with 7:19 left in the second.

But rather than pat themselves on the back for avoiding disaster, the Hawks rued their inability to hold a lead for even 30 seconds twice in Game 3. Desjardins was thrilled to score and give the Hawks an early lead, but quickly noted, “it was short-lived though. I think we can work on after the goals. Shifts after the goals have to be a little bit stronger.”

“You get momentum and then right away you lose it,” lamented forward Marian Hossa, who had two assists, six shots on goal and was a plus-2 in a particularly aggressive 200-foot-game performance. “Momentum is really important in a playoff series and you try to keep it as long as possible.”

Hawks coach Joel Quenneville didn’t ignore the post-goal lapses in the glow of victory.

“One was off a faceoff. One was not the way we play,” Quenneville said. “We make a turnover in the slot right after a play — not what we’re looking to do. Coverage down in our end right off the rush probably was positionally poor.

“But that’s the way it is when we talk about the importance of key shifts, be it shifts after goals, first or last shifts of a period; coming out of timeouts. Those two —we’ve got to make sure that can’t happen.”

And in protecting a two-goal lead throughout the third period, the Hawks spared themselves the drama of having to gut out a playoff victory. Believe it or not, Sunday’s game was the Hawks’ first postseason victory that was not a one-goal game or tied in the third period since Game 5 of the conference semifinals against the Red Wings in 2013.

That constant strain of playoff drama takes a toll mentally and physically — arguably the reason the running-on-fumes Hawks fell short a year ago.

“We seem to get in some long games in the playoffs the past few years,” Saad said. “As long as we [win] we’re happy. [But] those games can kind of drain you, “so it’s nice to win in regulation.”

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