There was no revenge to be exacted Saturday night at the United Center. There is nothing a team can do during the sixth game of the regular season to atone for a first-round, franchise-altering flameout.
But there’s little doubt the Blackhawks felt they at least had a little something to prove entering their first meeting with the Nashville Predators since the first-round sweep in April.
“We have to play to win the game,” coach Joel Quenneville said before the game. “Certainly, playing the way we did last year doesn’t help our chances.”
No, it certainly didn’t. But despite a game that looked an awful lot like the last four between these two teams, the Hawks pulled out a 2-1 overtime victory over the Predators, with Patrick Sharp scoring late to send the game to overtime, and Brandon Saad redirecting a Patrick Kane feed in overtime for the game-winner. It was notable that the two goal-scorers weren’t on the team last spring, and were brought in to help boost an offense that went dormant when it mattered most.
It was an unlikely victory for the Hawks, who improved to 4-1-1 against their murderer’s row of season-opening opponents. Nashville — without two of its big four defensemen in Roman Josi and Ryan Ellis — was faster, stronger, rougher, and more in control for nearly the entire game. At least, until Quenneville shook up his lines in a desperate search for offense. He put Alex DeBrincat with Ryan Hartman and Kane, and John Hayden with Sharp and Artem Anisimov.
“[It] just had to do with us not managing the puck the right way,” Saad said of the slow start. “We had a lot of turnovers and they capitalized the other way. That’s what kept us in our own end, and we couldn’t create offense. We did it to ourselves. But we learned from it. It was a big win, and we’ll move on.”
The Hawks scored just three goals in the four-game sweep in April, and the two home games were both Predators shutouts. Saturday was mostly more of the same, as the Hawks’ scoreless streak at home against the Predators stretched to 174 minutes, 56 seconds — dating all the way back to Jan. 8 — before Sharp finally broke through to tie the game 1-1 at 14:24 of the third period.
Predators coach Peter Laviolette was furious about the equalizer, as Hartman had ripped Matt Irwin’s stick out of his hands and flung it behind the net, leaving Irwin defenseless against Sharp’s shovel shot.
“Playing an unbelievable game to that point and [to] have it taken away from us like that is ridiculous,” Laviolette said.
The Hawks, meanwhile credited Corey Crawford for keeping them in the game long enough to figure things out. Crawford made 18 of his 37 saves in the first period alone, as things could have gotten ugly early. The Hawks, so dynamic in the first couple of games of the season, once again looked a step slow — witness Brent Seabrook simply grabbing Viktor Arvidsson as he was about to blow by for an odd-man rush early in the third period, taking the penalty to avoid giving up the break.
Seabrook was hardly the only culprit, though. For all the change the Hawks went through over the summer in an effort to be “harder to play against,” the Predators still had their way for most of the game.
Quenneville shrugged off some of the struggles, noting that Nick Schmaltz’s eventual return — he’s now targeting Wednesday in St. Louis — should stabilize the lines and provide some much-needed speed to the lineup. But he felt fortunate to get two points out of what could have been another lousy night against the Predators.
“The last 15 minutes of the game, counting overtime — that’s the way we need to play,” Quenneville said.
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