Down one game to none after a shutout loss at home in the opener of a playoff series the Blackhawks are overwhelming favorites to win, Patrick Kane acted and sounded like he’d been here before. Because he has.
The Hawks are just warming up. A top seed in the conference losing at home to the second wild-card team might be an ominous red flag to some teams, but to the Hawks, it wasn’t even the proverbial wake-up call. They are alert and well aware of what’s going on.
“It’s our first game of the playoffs this season,” Kane said after the Hawks lost 1-0 to the Nashville Predators before 22,075 disappointed but probably not stunned fans at the United Center. “You kind of get used to the intensity, how everything ramps up. Every shift’s important. Not only for the young guys, but for a lot of us, it’s important to get used to playing that playoff style of hockey again and get back to doing the little things right.”
It could turn out that the Game 1 loss was a harbinger of playoff doom, but the Hawks have earned the right to think otherwise. They are habitual slow starters in the playoffs. The Hawks are 3-6 in playoff openers under Quenneville (2-2 at the United Center), and all three victories were decided in overtime. And, playing for the first time since their regular-season finale on Saturday, they are prone to rust. They’re now 1-6-0 with three days or more between games.
“We’ll try to learn from this Game 1, try not to get too down on ourselves,” Kane said. “We knew it was going to be a long series. They’re a good team. Give them credit tonight. I’m sure the building will be rocking Saturday night [for Game 2]. It will be fun.”
Pekka Rinne, who stopped all 29 shots he faced, is a world-class goalie when he’s at his best. But the Hawks haven’t been beaten in the playoffs by a hot goalie since Mike Smith stymied them in the first round in 2012. The Hawks don’t think they have a Pekka Rinne problem. Quenneville doesn’t, anyway.
“He looked all right because we didn’t make it tough on him,” Quenneville said. “Any goalie who sees the puck as much as he did [in Game 1] is going to be effective. I think we have to find a way to get through, hang around [the net]. That’s where the rewards are.”
After going more than 13 minutes without a shot on goal in the first period, the Hawks were stronger in the last two periods but couldn’t finish the scoring opportunities they created. They expect to cash in when they get in a better series groove.
“I think eventually [we will], with the group we have in here,” Kane said. “We created [opportunities] a little bit, but we probably want to create more Grade A chances. Sometimes the best way to do that is play defense, check the right way and maybe get some odd-man rushes going the other way.”
This clearly was not the Hawks’ best effort, but far from their worst. In 2010, they lost 4-1 to the Predators in the playoff opener at the United Center. They won 2-0 in Game 2 and the series in six games.
For the Hawks, this wasn’t a disaster. It was something to build on.
“I don’t think there’s any excuse in the book that you can throw out there that would stand its ground,” captain Jonathan Toews said. “It’s the first game of the playoffs. We should have a better start than we did tonight. But sometimes there’s some nerves, and you need to shake things off. You need to find your groove and find your game, especially the speed and the intensity. I think we did that.”
Down in the series, the Hawks will rely on one of their best attributes: They learn well.
“The intensity, the speed, the physicality — it steps up every game,” Toews said. “I won’t say teams feel each other out in the first game, but there’s no doubt it becomes more personal as the series goes along.
‘‘They’re going to look to put pressure on us, and we need to respond. We need to have the best 60 minutes we’ve had so far this year. It’s a big one.”
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