NASHVILLE, Tenn. —As unfortunate as it was, Shea Weber’s injury in the second period of Game 2 looked like yet another break for the Blackhawks.
Weber, the Nashville Predators’ best player — a three-time Norris Trophy finalist, two-time Olympic champion and team captain — left the game with a lower-body injury after he collided with Hawks’ forward Brandon Saad along the boards near the Predators goal and dropped to the ice with 10:40 left in the second period.
Just 72 seconds after Weber left the game, the Hawks tied the game 2-2 when Patrick Kane rifled a shot past Predators goalie Pekka Rinne with 9:28 left in the second period.
The Hawks had the momentum and Lady Luck on their side —replays indicated the Hawks had six players on the ice at the time Kane received the puck from Brent Seabrook. And the Predators soon announced that Weber was out for the game.
As it turned out, the Hawks were unable to take advantage of Weber’s absence. In fact, it appeared the Predators — already missing veteran center Mike Fisher, who was injured in Game 1 —were invigorated by the challenge of playing without their best player.
They fought off whatever momentum the Hawks had after Kane’s goal, took the lead on Craig Smith’s goal 4:22 later and eventually broke it open with three goals in a 2:19 span of the third period for 6-2 victory at Bridgestone Arena that tied the series 1-1.
Though nobody wants to see any player injured, Hawks captain Jonathan Toews acknowledged it was a missed opportunity.
“It’s something we definitely have to feed off of, if they have their best player go down and try and take advantage of that situation, which we didn’t do much tonight,” Toews said. “We’ll see what the situation is next game.
“But regardless, as we saw out there, whether they have him or not, or Mike Fisher. It’s the same [for us]. If we’re missing one of our top guys, we always respond. We’ve got to be better and try to expose their defense, especially when they have a short bench.”
Without Weber on the ice, Predators coach Peter Laviolette relied on Roman Josi (24:31), Seth Jones (21:52) and Ryan Ellis (20:29) to pick up the slack.
“We did a good job of getting it done without him,” forward Colin Wilson said. “Losing your captain is a big loss, he’s been one of our best players, but no matter what’s been thrown at us we’ve kind of stayed even keel.”
The Predators did not have an update on Weber’s condition after the game. And while they weathered the storm in Game 2, it will be an even greater challenge if Weber cannot play in Game 3 on Sunday at the United Center and beyond.
Weber has been a mainstay for nine seasons in Nashville. He has missed just 16 games in the last seven seasons. The Predators were 1-4-2 without him over the past two regular seasons —allowing 29 goals in those seven games.
“Short term, things can go in your favor when everybody gets a little bit more ice time and they do what they can,” Hawks coach Joel Quenneville said. “It’s 3-2 [in the third period], we’re pressing, it’s deep in the game, that’s when all their action came. It wasn’t like they were coming when it was earlier in the period and we we’re probably a little more patient.”
On Friday night, the Predators were buoyed by their ability to compensate for the loss of such an important player. Weber and Fisher account for nearly one fourth of the Predators’ total playoff experience.
“We might not have a lot of it, but the guys we have in here as leaders are second to none,” defenseman Cody Franson said. “They know exactly what to do in these situations. They know how to deal with adversity. They don’t panic in stressful situations and our young guys, even though they’re young and haven’t gone through it much, they feel calm because of those guys.”