Predators’ top line skating circles around Blackhawks’ top trio
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NASHVILLE, Tenn. — One of the traits that separates Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews from so many other superstars is that even when he’s not scoring, his ability to shut down other high-end players makes him invaluable.
So far against the Nashville Predators, though, Toews and his linemates have been getting overrun by the Predators’ top line of Filip Forsberg, Ryan Johansen and Viktor Arvidsson.
Even with another defensive dynamo (Marian Hossa) moved up to the top line with Toews and Nick Schmaltz, the Johansen line frequently had the Hawks’ top unit pinned deep in their own zone for extended shifts during the Hawks’ 3-2 overtime loss in Game 3. When Toews and Johansen were on the ice together, the Hawks had only five shot attempts to the Predators’ 15.
The Hawks’ top defensive pairing of Duncan Keith and Niklas Hjalmarsson wasn’t much help, either. The Johansen line out-attempted the Hawks 23-8 when the two were on the ice.
Forsberg scored two goals in the third period to send the game to overtime.
‘‘Anytime you’re playing against good players, you want to make them defend,’’ Keith said. ‘‘And part of that is having the puck. And we haven’t really had the puck a whole lot against that line in particular.’’
Coach Joel Quenneville didn’t sound too worried about the one-sided matchup, saying that despite all its zone time, the Johansen line didn’t get too many good scoring chances. Forsberg’s first goal came off a fluky bounce off the glass, and his second one came on a rebound.
But Quenneville would like to see all his lines play with the same aggressive, battling mentality that the third line of Dennis Rasmussen, Marcus Kruger and Richard Panik played with.
‘‘That’s harder to play against; that’s what we’re talking about,’’ Quenneville said. ‘‘Tenacity around the net. Relentlessly coming up with loose pucks. Playoff hockey. Winning puck battles. Paying the price. We saw portions of it [in Game 3], but that [Kruger] line had more consistency than anybody.’’
Slow on the draw
Other than Toews, the Hawks have been getting dominated in the faceoff circle in the last two games, another factor in the Predators’ puck-possession dominance. Artem Anisimov was 2-for-17 at the dot in Game 3, and Kruger was 7-for-21.
‘‘Faceoffs were definitely an issue,’’ Quenneville said. ‘‘Whether it was battles off the draws, initially or along the walls and the sides, we did lose them and we have lost them in the series. A lot of the key faceoffs, which can lead to clean exits like they [had in Game 3], especially in the third period.’’
Rasmussen scored the Hawks’ first goal of the postseason — and the first playoff goal of his career — in the second period of Game 3. Interestingly enough, Rasmussen’s first regular-season goal also came against Predators goalie Pekka Rinne — in his NHL debut on Dec. 8, 2015, at the United Center.
‘‘It doesn’t matter who scores; we want to win hockey games,’’ Rasmussen said. ‘‘That’s all that matters. We didn’t win, so that was tough.’’
Business as usual
The Hawks have lost seven consecutive games dating to the last week of the regular season, during which Quenneville rested several key players for what amounted to meaningless games because the top seed in the Western Conference already had been locked up.
Quenneville brushed off the idea that coasting into the playoff stunted the momentum the Hawks had built in February and early March and led to their dreadful start to the postseason.
‘‘I still thought we could have gotten points in a lot of those games,’’ Quenneville said. ‘‘For the most part, I think we did what we’ve done in the past, going into this situation.’’
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