At what point should the Blackhawks start to worry? At what point is it too trite and too optimistic to point to playoff heroics past and assume they’ve still got this? At what point does effort trump experience? At what point is it too late to say it’s still early?
This might be the point. Trailing 2-0 in a first-round series after a dreadful 5-0 loss Saturday to the Nashville Predators. Having lost the first two games of a series at home for the first time in the Joel Quenneville era. Having been shut out in consecutive playoff games for the first time since 2002. Facing a team that looks sharper, faster and hungrier.
‘‘We’ve been in some tough spots before,’’ captain Jonathan Toews said. ‘‘Didn’t think after two games at home that we’d be talking about this already, that it’s do-or-die, but we’re going to go into that next game with that mentality.’’
History still makes it clear that it’s foolish to write off the Hawks just yet. They’ve trailed 2-0 three times under Quenneville, losing to the
Detroit Red Wings in the Western Conference final in 2009 and to the Vancouver Canucks in the first round in 2011 and beating the St. Louis Blues in the first round in 2014.
Right now, though, this Hawks team bears little resemblance to those unflappable squads, and there are red flags everywhere.
They’ve gone 156 minutes, 40 seconds without a goal in playoff play, dating to Game 7 of the first round against the Blues last spring. They’ve lost six games in a row since the last week of the regular season, when they started resting players and stunting any momentum they had built up with their season-best stretch in February and March. Toews hasn’t scored a playoff goal since Game 4 of the Stanley Cup
Final in 2015 against the Tampa Bay Lightning. Patrick Kane has scored only one since that series. Johnny Oduya looks a step slow, Duncan Keith has been sloppy with the puck and Predators goalie Pekka Rinne has stopped all 59 shots he has faced so far.
And the last 15 teams to lose the first two games of a playoff series at home have lost the series.
In Game 1, the Hawks were the better team for the last 40 minutes but were beaten by a stellar Rinne and a trapping Predators defense. In Game 2, the Hawks were flat-out outplayed and outworked by the more aggressive Predators.
‘‘That was frustration to a different level,’’ Quenneville said. ‘‘That wasn’t fun to watch. We dug ourselves a tremendous hole. Not too many positives came out of tonight’s game. Everybody was responsible, from the coaches down to every single player. We need to get out of this mess.’’
The Predators sucked the life out of the United Center on a goal by Ryan Ellis at 3:44 of the first period. The Predators then started to suffocate the Hawks’ offense, allowing only four shots on goal in the last 17 minutes of the period.
But no longer content to sit back on a slim lead, the Predators went for the kill in the second, getting goals from Harry Zolnierczyk and Colton Sissons. The shell-shocked Hawks were booed off the ice after the period ended.
Quenneville shook up his lines and pairings to give them some life in the third, but it was far too little, far too late. The Predators’ Ryan Johansen and Kevin Fiala tacked on goals to put the game away.
‘‘They’re playing well and playing us the right way,’’ Toews said. ‘‘They’re obviously sticking to their game plan. [But] it’s about us. It’s always been about us and how we play and how we prepare.’’
Game 3 is scheduled for Monday in Nashville, Tennessee. And it’s basically a must-win for the Hawks.
‘‘We all probably thought the series would be in a different place right now,’’ Kane said. ‘‘That’s the way hockey goes, I guess.’’
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