Emma: Flustered In Game 1, Blackhawks Must Respond

By Chris Emma–

CHICAGO (CBS) — There certainly was no lack of confidence for the Blackhawks after a Game 1 loss that just didn’t go their way. Not a head was hanging to the dressing room floor, and disappointment wasn’t present. This was only Game 1.

Ultimately, the 1-0 loss to the Predators in Thursday’s playoff opener came down to a defensive breakdown and excellent effort as Viktor Arvidsson swept to the net for a redirect. The United Center fell quiet, with the urgency for a goal building over the next two-plus periods. There were some quality chances, but the opportune Blackhawks couldn’t come through.

That’s because the Predators spent the second and third periods waiting back with the check in a 1-3-1 zone as the Blackhawks tried to attack. They were stifled and left with a 1-0 hole in the game and series.

“We got to be better — across the board,” Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said after the game.

At times, it just felt overdue — that Artemi Panarin snipe, that Marian Hossa magic, that Ryan Hartman redirect. The Blackhawks have made a living in the clutch, but not on this night.

Quenneville responded to the Predators’ checking by working Patrick Kane overtime. Kane played 24:23 while maneuvering around the ice and attempting to beat the defensive pressure. Kane was a key factor in the Blackhawks getting the handful of chances they got, but the linemates need to be better.

Rather than working more aggressively near the net, the Blackhawks were passive in letting the Predators control the zone. The net-front presence was lacking and so was that clutch goal we’ve come accustomed to in Chicago.

Credit the Predators and tap the stick for goaltender Pekka Rinne, who had 29 saves in the victory. But the Blackhawks know they can be better.

“We had the puck most of the game, and I thought we played decent, but it’s not good enough,” Blackhawks defenseman Niklas Hjlamarsson said. “I think the intensity level has to go up a couple levels. We have to find a way to score goals. They played well defensively, but we have to find a way to score.”

The Blackhawks stumbled out of the gates in Game 1, first with the defensive breakdown on Arvidsson’s goal — which saw three defenders at the top of the circle and the unmarked man next to Corey Crawford’s crease — and then with a tentative offensive game. The Blackhawks had just one shot in the final 13:52 of the first period.

After what surely wasn’t a pleasant first intermission, the Blackhawks showed a greater sense of urgency with their game. They put on a clinic in puck movement at times, forcing the Predators to increase their checking. Nashville got just nine shots on goal after the first period, focusing on protecting a 1-0 lead.

The Blackhawks didn’t respond and force the issue.

“They were happy to check the rest of the game,” Quenneville said. “They did a good job of having the lead and trying to frustrate us.

“(Rinne) looked all right tonight because we didn’t make it tough on him. That’s got to be the case. Any goalie sees the puck as (little) as he did tonight is going to be effective.”

The Blackhawks have twice faced the Predators in the first round, eliminating them en route to their championships in 2010 and 2015. Both series featured incredible drama, including a six-game battle two years ago. That’s purely anecdotal, but the Blackhawks figured out Rinne in each series.

While the talent of the Blackhawks shines in the postseason, it requires players doing the dirty work, too. For all the movement of Kane in his heavy ice time, there wasn’t enough traffic to make Rinne’s job difficult.

Game 1 was decided because the Predators found fortunes and then played a sound game with the lead. Their defense avoided mistakes with excellent checking and their goaltender did the rest.

Left frustrated, the Blackhawks failed to respond as the Predators sat back and kept waiting. Their time ran out in this first game.

“We know it’s going to be a long series,” Hjalmarsson said.

Disappointment was brief as the Blackhawks looked ahead to being better in Game 2.

Chris Emma covers the Bears, Chicago’s sports scene and more for CBSChicago.com. Follow him on Twitter @CEmma670 and like his Facebook page.

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