By Chris Emma–
CHICAGO (CBS) — The “C” proudly worn on his sweater requires the Blackhawks’ Jonathan Toews to stand for an ugly game like this, a 5-0 pounding from the Predators on Saturday night at the United Center.
Sure enough, he was waiting as reporters entered the dressing room just as confused as the Blackhawks themselves.
That’s the role of the captain, the leader of the Blackhawks. Toews has enjoyed the privilege of being the first to lift the Stanley Cup, and now he has to be first answering for the abysmal showing his team has put forth in two shutout losses to open the playoffs.
“We’re not going to get frustrated,” Toews said. “We stay with it. We’ve been in some tough spots before.”
Toews is correct in that the Blackhawks have overcome greater deficits — the comeback from down 3-1 in the 2013 Western Conference semifinals comes to mind — but never before has a Joel Quenneville-led Blackhawks team been completely neutralized like this. They’re actually quite frustrated.
The best in the West, the team of this decade, the Stanley Cup favorite looks like a shell of itself. Consider this fate inexplicable. Few removed from that Predators bench could’ve imagined this.
Thursday’s playoff lid lifter saw the Blackhawks fail to force the issue as the Predators played to protect their lead. The 1-0 margin was reflective of a team that simply wasn’t opportune.
Not only did the Blackhawks fail to capitalize on their chances Saturday night, but they were sloppy as can be. This looked like a bunch playing the preseason, not the playoffs. Rare is it the Madhouse grows loud with boos for its home team, but the Blackhawks haven’t given the crowd any reason to cheer.
Say, what’s that catchy song called again? Chelsea who?
Through two games, the Blackhawks have been thoroughly outplayed. They’ve been embarrassed by a team lacking the talent and depth. Even worse, it all happened on home ice.
The Blackhawks have always been able to flip the switch — so often during this regular season. They’re not even in the same room as that switch right now.
“Be angry,” Quenneville said as he looked ahead to Game 3 on Monday.
In the opening minutes, Richard Panik unleashed a blast that hit the post. Toews suffered the same fate in the second period. The third stanza opened with Nick Schmaltz collecting a puck loose in the neutral zone and misfiring on a two-on-one rush. Moments later, Panik whiffed on a loose puck in the slot.
Predators goaltender Pekka Rinne, who recorded another shutout, has two more points than the Blackhawks through two games. Don’t blame Corey Crawford, who has received little help keeping his net clean.
By the end, they had seen enough. Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Artem Anisimov and Artemi Panarin — yes, him, too — began shoving Predators out of frustration. Panarin was ready to drop the gloves with Ryan Johansen, who politely declined.
Ryan Hartman ended his night with a dirty cross-check to the head of Craig Smith, then he was ready to take on the entire Predators bench as a linesman held him back. He got a game misconduct, leaving a disheartening game early.
Boos were steady as the clock ticked away, though not nearly as loud with the crowd clearing to 2007 form. Anger had set in with the fans well before this team.
Even Predators coach Peter Laviolette admitted he never could’ve imagined shutting out the Blackhawks twice on their home ice. His team has continued to aggressively check in the neutral zone, frequently running a 1-4 trap to frustrate the high-flying Blackhawks. After Game 1, Quenneville wanted better aggression around the net. In Game 2, they struggled to get into their offensive zone at times.
“It was frustration to different level,” Quenneville said. “That wasn’t fun to watch. We dug ourselves a tremendous hole across the board.”
The Blackhawks now pack their bags and head south to Nashville, where the Predators will be backed by a raucous home environment. Bringing the series back to Chicago will be a great challenge if the Blackhawks can’t figure out their game.
This resilient bunch must find its form to prove itself as better. The Blackhawks have been in tough spots, but this is unprecedented.
They’re getting embarrassed.