Blackhawks hope to channel anger, embarrassment into momentum
The game started with the typical deafening roars during the national anthem, but the soundtrack became increasingly angsty as the game went on and it became increasingly clear the Blackhawks not only might not win the game but might not score a goal.
The roars became murmurs, which became grumbles, which became occasional angry exhortations until finally, as the Hawks trudged off the ice after the second period Saturday, a rarely heard sound rained down on them from the 22,000-plus in attendance.
Boos. And the Hawks couldn’t blame them.
‘‘Fans in Chicago are great fans,’’ defenseman Brent Seabrook said. ‘‘They support us through thick and thin. And we weren’t holding up our end of the bargain [Saturday] night.’’
Coach Joel Quenneville put it even more bluntly: ‘‘They had nothing to be happy about.’’
Neither do the Hawks. They trail their first-round playoff series against the Nashville Predators 2-0 after dropping the first two games at home — a situation even the tried-and-tested Hawks haven’t faced in the Quenneville era. They’re playing a team that is playing better, harder, faster and hungrier. They’re facing a goalie — Pekka Rinne — who is at the top of his game and who has posted two shutouts to open the series.
Most alarming is how badly the Hawks lost Game 2. This wasn’t a puck-luck loss, where a fluky bounce or one bad play cost them a game. The Hawks looked slow, sloppy and awful.
And now they look mad.
‘‘Of course, I’m [ticked] off,’’ Seabrook said. ‘‘I think we all are. It was a tough game. It was embarrassing, losing 5-0. It was a tough night and tough to sleep, but we have to get back on the horse. It’s playoff time. They’re not going to wait around for us, and we have to go.’’
Channeling that anger and frustration in a positive way — without letting it boil over into foolishness, such as when rookie Ryan Hartman hit a prone and vulnerable Craig Smith in the head late in Game 2 — will be key. Hartman won’t face supplemental discipline from the department of player safety, a league source said, but reckless, careless play isn’t what the Hawks need. They need focused aggression to fight through the Predators’ neutral-zone-clogging, shot-blocking defense and to get in Rinne’s face and score their first goal of the series.
There are plenty of things the Hawks need to do better, including handle the puck more cleanly, battle harder in the corners and in the Predators’ crease and win more faceoffs. But there are also things the Hawks need to do differently, including create their own shooting lanes with shot fakes and unpredictability, dump-and-chase more often to get around the trap rather than try to carry the puck through and have defensemen get more involved in the offensive attack to give them strength in numbers.
‘‘It’s not only up to the forwards to create offensive chances,’’ defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson said. ‘‘We’ve got to be a five-man unit working together to be able to create.’’
Things look pretty dire right now, but one goal might open the floodgates and one emphatic victory might change the complexion of the series. The Hawks matched a franchise record for road victories this season and have won at least two road games in each of their last four playoff series. They’re not dead yet, not by a long shot.
‘‘I don’t think we’re shocked that Nashville’s a good team,’’ defenseman Brian Campbell said. ‘‘We knew it was going to take our best effort to win games in this series or win the series.’’
It’s time to find that effort because, as those boos underscored, nobody has seen it yet.
NOTE: Goalie Corey Crawford will start Game 3, but coach Joel Quenneville hinted there might be a lineup change or two.
Follow me on Twitter @MarkLazerus.