NASHVILLE, Tenn. — It was over in a hurry.
Tied with the Nashville Predators through two periods, the Blackhawks were in position to steal a key road game and end their first-round playoff series. They’ve done it before.
But that familiar recipe for victory was foiled before they had a chance to use it. James Neal scored on a wraparound 47 seconds into the period, Colin Wilson scored on a power play 2:15 later and Filip Forsberg beat Scott Darling 12 seconds after that. The Predators’ three goals in a 2:27 span quickly ended any hopes the Blackhawks had of ending the series early, as the Predators won 5-2 at Bridgestone Arena to cut the Hawks’ series lead to 3-2.
“For whatever reason we got off our game,” said forward Brad Richards, who scored his first goal of the playoffs to give the Hawks a 1-0 lead in the first period. “When it’s evenly matched like that, they’re a good team, they feed off the crowd. But really [we need to] go to bed, wake up and start over.”
The Hawks appeared to be in position to steal another game on the road after they emerged form an inconsistent first two periods tied 1-1.
“Absolutely,” Kane said. “We were fortunate to be 1-1. We had some chances in the second that we could have capitalized on. We could have had the lead.
“I think we need to tighten up a little bit defensively — whether it’s the forwards, defense, all of us — and make sure we’re not giving them as many Grade A chances — chances they even missed on tonight. If we shore up that area, we’ll get the puck more and let our offense take over.”
Neal’s goal on a wraparound — he beat not only Darling but defenseman Duncan Keith, who had the blade of his stick guarding the corner of the goal — gave the Predators a 2-1 lead 47 seconds into the period.
After defenseman Michael Rozsival was penalized for interference, Colin Wilson needed 32 seconds to score a power-play goal on a nifty move in front of Darling to make it 3-1 at 3:02.
“We just got sloppy, fed a lot of transition, out-number rushes,” Richards said. “Just got a little out of control there and it’s not necessarily why they scored the first goal of the third, but we were just sloppy and kept them feeling good, because they had a lot of rush chances and the puck a lot.”
A two-goal deficit is hardly insurmountable for the Hawks, especially with nearly 17 minutes left. But before the Hawks could even begin their comeback, the Predators were on the attack again and scored easily when center Mike Fisher passed across the slot to the rookie Forsberg, who easily beat Darling 12 seconds later to give the Predators a 4-1 lead just 3:14 into the period.
“Our line could have done a better job of making sure that we’re ready off the faceoff and not giving them an easy chance like that off the rush,” Kane said. “It’s tough to come back from 4-1 in this league, especially in the playoffs, it’s such tight-checking. You’re at 3-1, there’s a lot of time left and you’ve got to be patient still. You can’t give up that chance.”
“Obviously we didn’t start good in the third,” Richards said. “They grabbed what they could. In the second [period] we didn’t get hurt with some of that stuff, but we got hurt in the third and then we’re chasing again.”