Pekka Rinne, Predators defense frustrating futile Blackhawks

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Pekka Rinne has stopped all 59 shots he’s faced through two games against the Blackhawks. (Getty Images)

As the words came out of his mouth, even Jonathan Toews was surprised by how absurd it -sounded.

“Everyone in this room will take it upon themselves to try to make a difference and try to get our team going with the first goal of the series,” he said before catching himself and adding, “I didn’t think you’d be saying that three games into the series.”

But that’s where the Blackhawks find themselves after two shutout losses at home to start their first-round series with the Nashville Predators. It’s the first time in 81 years that the Hawks have been shut out in the first two games of a playoff series.

How good has Pekka Rinne been so far? The Predators goaltender even added two assists in the 5-0 victory Saturday in Game 2.

“It’s not every night you get a shutout,” Rinne said. “I mean, it’s pretty rare. So for sure, it feels great personally. But also as a team, we all have to feel good about it. It’s a nice feeling when you’re playing one of the top teams and in the first two games they haven’t scored a goal.”

The Hawks again were unable to get much traffic in front of Rinne. And even Rinne said his defense made it easy on him. But you don’t stop 59 of 59 shots over two games by accident.

“He’s lying, first of all,” Predators coach Peter Laviolette said. “There were some unbelievable saves, especially in the third period when the game was 3-0.”

For a precious few moments to start the game, the Hawks looked like they might be back to their old selves offensively. Less than a minute into the game, Richard Panik hit the post. Two minutes in, Rinne denied Nick Schmaltz on a strong drive to the net, then denied Marcus Kruger on the follow-up.

But after Ryan Ellis’ goal at 3:44, the Hawks’ offense went dormant until the third period, when it was too late. Toews hit the post early in the second, and Dennis Rasmussen was stoned point-blank midway through the period.

“There’s still a lot we can do as far as getting in front of Rinne’s eyes and not letting him see pucks,” said Toews, who said that just one goal could open the floodgates. “We’re getting a lot of shots from the outside, but it doesn’t seem like there’s enough traffic or second efforts. Everything seems to be getting cleaned up, and we need to make a better effort to get inside and get in that blue paint and try to score those ugly goals.”

It starts with Toews and Patrick Kane, of course, who have combined for one goal in the last nine Hawks playoff games. But the Hawks will take a goal from anybody at this point. Because while they’ve been in tight spots before, they’ve never started a series quite like this.

“A gigantic hole,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “We have to chip away. We need a goal to start to get the momentum back. One shift at a time. Baby steps. Be angry.”

Follow me on Twitter @MarkLazerus.

Email: mlazerus@suntimes.com

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