Check your pulses. Still alive? Congratulations; we're all going to live to tell the tale. The NHL playoffs are always another beast but today's game was incredible in so many ways. Here's how it went, as I saw it:
Act 1: Business As Usual
Despite giving up the first goal to the Predators, the Blackhawks do a good job of taking control of the game. They outshoot, outscore, and even sprinkle a little bit of comedy in when Antti Niemi's pants swallowed a puck.
Act 2: The Unraveling
The Hawks pull up to a 3-1 lead with goals by Ladd, Hjalmarsson, and Kopecky, but a Patrick Kane miscue leads to a shorthanded 2on1 goal by Ward that cuts the lead to one. Minutes later, an unmanned Erat makes it a tied game, on only the Predators' 9th shot. Just when it starts to look like the game is headed to overtime, Erat scores (yet again thanks to David Bolland wandering elsewhere) to put the Preds up 4-3. The clock starts winding down, and in frustration, Marian Hossa makes a desperate play, shoving Dan Hamhuis to the boards in a move eerily similar to the Ovechkin hit that took Brian Campbell out for 6 weeks. The Hawks, who have pulled Antti Niemi to attempt to force overtime in the last 2 minutes, are now looking to kill a 5-minute major penalty.
Act 3: Redemption
Joel Quenneville throws Kane out, technically to kill the penalty, but instead Kane drifts up to the neutral zone. Ballsy and maybe also reckless since the Hawks are then effectively killing a penalty with only 3 men instead of 4, but the play moves out of the Hawks' zone to the Preds', and with only 14-or-something seconds left, Kane is there right by the net--right place, right time--to poke the puck in once it goes his way. The game is tied, and the game goes to the first overtime of the series after all.
Overtime opens with the last 4 minutes of the penalty kill, and the Blackhawks continue to shut out the Predators' power play. Sopel heads a rush down to the Predators' zone, Bolland not far behind. From behind the net he sends the puck back to Sopel, who takes the shot. Rinne is able to block it, but it rebounds right back to Hossa, fresh out of the penalty box and now suddenly beside the net, and from there it is an easy poke.
Hawks win in overtime, take a 3-2 series lead, and head back to Nashville on Monday to potentially end the series there.
- Emerging patterns: so it isn't 4-1, shutout, 4-1, shutout after all. It looks more like a pattern based solely on the Predators. They'll score 4, then none, then 4, then none, then 4 again. Good to know.
- The stats won't show this, but Niemi wasn't as bad as it looked. The first goal was a perfect screen that he couldn't have seen, and the second goal was another breakdown that resulted in a 2on1 opportunity he was solidly beaten at. Part of what made the game so unbelievable for me was how the Predators did manage to capitalize on nearly every good opportunity they got.
- I am normally a big David Bolland fan, but something's not right with his play tonight, up until that overtime shift. He is normally better than this and I don't know what the problem is, but he needs to show more of his normal self.
- This will undoubtedly get debated over and over, but in summary, I don't believe the Hossa hit was clean, the penalty was correct, and if he gets suspended, 1 game should be enough. I can see how he may not get suspended, given his history--or lack thereof in making dirty hits, the fact that Hamhuis still at least had the puck doesn't make it clearly intent to injure, and the fact that Hamhuis appears to be okay. Nevertheless, he should have held up on the hit and personally, I can't condone it. I don't think the resulting injury should be used as a basis for judgement either, but that's a topic for another discussion.
- A win is always good, but the Blackhawks should never have put themselves in that position to begin with. They had a 2-goal lead and they lost it, even falling back, when they should have kept it. They have to learn how to not fall apart. We may be able to get out of this round, but we won't last very long in the playoffs if shit like this continues.