NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Through the first three games of their Western Conference Quarterfinal series, the Nashville Predators have hamstrung the high-scoring Chicago Blackhawks.
Playing before an ear-splitting Bridgestone Arena crowd of 16,075 on Tuesday night, Nashville earned its second 4-1 victory over the Blackhawks, the NHL's third-highest scoring team during the regular season, in moving to a 2-1 series lead.
David Legwand had a goal and two assists and Martin Erat scored the first playoff penalty-shot goal in Nashville history. Game 4 is back here on Thursday.
Seventh-seeded Nashville has allowed Chicago, which finished one point out of first in the West during the regular season, only four goals in the series. Much of that has to do with rookie goalie Pekka Rinne, who made 34 saves on Tuesday and now boasts a .957 save percentage in the series.
"Yeah, yeah, I do," Rinne said when asked if he felt like his team could continue to hold Chicago to low-scoring games. "That's a lot of credit to our forwards and [defensemen]. They do a great job in front of me.
"Yeah, [the Blackhawks] have good players. They're going to get some chances, especially on the power play, but I think we're doing a great job and paying a lot of attention to details. We notice who we're playing against and it's been a big thing for us."
After a relatively "nice" first two games in Chicago --
compared to other series around the league there
were very few thundering hits, post-whistle scrums,
face-washes, etc. -- the Preds/Hawks series finally
started to get a little chippy in Game 3.
The hitting picked up on both sides Martin Erat, known
more for his creativity than physicality, was credited
with three hits and initiated contact on several other
occasions; same for JP Dumont and Steve Sullivan.
Sullivan (listed at 5-foot-8, 161 pounds) and Kris
Versteeg (listed at 5-foot-10, 182 pounds) where
whacking around at each other behind the play after a
second period run-in around the Chicago net.
Francis Bouillon (5-foot-8, 198 pounds) layed out a
pair of Hawks 10-seconds apart on the same shift mid-
way through the first period.
Patrick Sharp (25 goals, 66 points, and 28 penalty
minutes in the regular season) and Kevin Klein
exchanged whacks during a scrum around the
Nashville net mid-way through the third period. And
with 30.7 seconds left in regulation Sharp and David
Legwand had a scuffle after the whistle.
And that says nothing of Shea Weber and Jordin Tootoo,
who took the body at every chance they had. Weber
finished the game with five hits on the scoresheet,
including a tempo-setting check on Patrick Kane early
in the opening frame; Tootoo was credited with four hits
on the night, but was even more noticeable than the stat
The Blackhawks didn't back down though; Versteeg
played physical, Tomas Kopecky picked up the physicality
-- scoring Chicago's goal by setting up at the top of the
crease on the power-play -- and Brent Seabrook played
his usual tough defensive style.
The series is definitely starting to get a little more "bite" ...
should make for an interesting Game 4 on Thursday night. -Jay Levin/NashvillePredators.com
The Predators asserted themselves from the get-go as Shea Weber delivered a huge, message-sending hit to ‘Hawks leading-scorer Patrick Kane along the boards early in the first period. Kane did not register a shot until midway through the third period, by which time Nashville had built a two-goal lead.
"I think it got the crowd involved, got us kind of fired up and with a guy like that who already has scored in back-to-back games against us it was good to shut him down a little bit," Nashville forward Joel Ward said. "That's what we got to do to win this series and win the next game."
Nashville had many standouts on the night. Along with Rinne and Weber, perhaps one of the best players on the ice was Legwand, who converted a 2-on-1 pass from Steve Sullivan at the four-minute mark of the second for a 2-1 lead. Sullivan had corralled a puck along the right wing boards before speeding up ice to start the play.
Less than six minutes after Legwand scored, Weber, owner of possibly the hardest slap shot in the league, unleashed one from just inside the blue line that deflected off Marian Hossa's stick and still had enough power to make its way through Niemi, who was strong in making 31 saves.
"Well, my eyes kind of lit up there," Weber said. "It was a neutral [zone] situation but J.P. [Dumont]'s a good player who can find the good holes."
Erat scored on a penalty shot in the third period to ice it.
Predators coach Barry Trotz credited a stop that Rinne made on early on against Kris Versteeg on a partial breakaway for "getting us settled." Versteeg went to his backhand and it appeared that Rinne may have forced his shot to hit the side of the net.
After a flurry of activity, Ward got Nashville on the board first with seven minutes left in the first. Skating on a line with Marcel Goc and Sullivan in place of the injured Patric Hornqvist, the Preds' top scorer, Ward backhanded a rebound past Chicago goalie Antti Niemi. Niemi had trouble controlling a rebound of a shot by Steve Sullivan from inside the right faceoff circle.
Tomas Kopecky evened it on a Chicago power play four-and-a-half minutes later. Kopecky, who had earlier taken an elbowing penalty -- one of three straight the ‘Hawks took -- won a faceoff, skated to the net, received a pass from the point and put a backhander around Rinne.
Chicago coach Joel Quenneville said he was not disappointed in how his team handled Nashville's physical play -- Francis Bouillon also rocked Colin Fraser with a big hit -- but how it lost control of the game in the second period.
"It wasn't bad but I really thought we lost all momentum in that second period," Quenneville said. "Then they took the game over. The building was alive and had some personality and we put ourselves in the position we're in but we needed to get better off the first period's level and we weren't there."
The pressure now squarely shifts to a young Chicago team that has found itself stifled by the increasingly confident Predators. Nashville needs only to win at home in Game 4 on Thursday and, possibly, at home again in Game 6 on Monday to close out its first playoff series victory.
"Certainly tonight we can't be pleased with the way we played," Quenneville said. "They were the harder-working team, more resilient, more desperate. We know that each and every game is going to escalate and today, for whatever reasons, we didn't achieve what we wanted to."
POST-GAME QUOTES: Head Coach Barry Trotz On David Legwand...
“David’s a pretty useful player for us. He plays in a lot of different roles. We spoke after Game Two and he knew he didn’t have a good game and he responded well today. Leggy is giving the type of game we need and he gives us a lot more options as a hockey club. He’s a good two-way player and chipped in a great goal.”
On Joel Ward...
“Joel is the same, night in and night out. He’s a constant pro, strong on the walls, and his hockey IQ is outstanding on both sides of the puck. We count on him for a lot.”
“Right now, we’re into three games and we’ve had some good fortune but at the same time, we’ve defended well. It’s something we’ve done all year, for the most part, and in certain situations early in the year, we didn’t defend well and it showed in our record. As the year has gone on, we’ve solidified defense and it shows in our record.”
On playing with the lead in third...
“If you take anything from this game, it’s that the third period, we did a really good job. Sometimes you tend to sit back and we continued to play. That’s the most impressive thing we did and the thing I was most satisfied with. Our attitude was right where it should be.”
On the physicality in the game...
“They came out with a real physical effort this game and we were energized by the crowd. It was pretty hairy first period and every stoppage of play, you could barely hear on the bench. We stress just being firm on people and don’t let them off the hook.”
Forward Steve Sullivan On getting the win tonight and making the series 2-1…
"It was a great game for us tonight. We played right to our game plan and Pekka was outstanding. Legwand played an unbelievable hockey game, and we just got a lot from everyone. We didn’t give them very much and made them work for everything they got. It was just a great effort from everybody."
On having more energy in tonight’s game…
"I thought we had a lot more energy than we did in Game Two. I think we got in on them; we made it really difficult for them to make that first pass, which slows their speed down, which is their strength. We’ve got to keep sticking to our game plan."
Forward David Legwand On Nashville’s play in the neutral zone…
"It was big; obviously we knew we could get some speed and we have a great team speed that we wanted to take advantage of and we felt like we did that tonight and took advantage of our chances."
On getting second opportunities in the playoffs this year…
"I think that any time you have a tough regular season, the second-chance is welcome. If you would’ve said at the start of the season that our leading scorer would only have 51 points, nobody would’ve really given us a chance, but we did it as a collective group and we’ve got to keep doing that. That’s how we win hockey games and we’re going to continue to do it."
Defenseman Shea Weber On his shot that scored one of the second-period goals…
"Well, my eyes kind-of lit up there. It was a neutral situation, but J.P.’s a good player and can find the good holes."
On the influence the fans had on the team’s performance tonight…
"They were fantastic. Right from the get-go with the towels and everything, they were going nuts right after warm-up so it really pushed us."
Goaltender Pekka Rinne On getting an impressive win tonight against Chicago…
"I’ve never experienced anything like that before. I know in Nashville, that was something special, especially before the game, with everybody was going nuts it was a pretty amazing feeling. That, for sure, got us going. I’m sure that everyone will say that it had a big impact on our game."
1 - 0 NSH
1 - 1 Tie
2 - 1 NSH
3 - 1 NSH
4 - 1 NSH
Holding the stick