By Chris Emma—
(CBS) The Blackhawks are better than that.
Really, that shouldn’t sound like a joke or a hot take given this team posted 109 points and earned the top placement in the Western Conference during the regular season, but this should be reminded after the Blackhawks were swept away as the No. 1 seed.
For all their incredible talents — Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Marian Hossa, Artemi Panarin, Duncan Keith, etc. — the Blackhawks were humiliated by the Predators.
This great disappointment came to a conclusion Thursday night with the Predators’ 4-1 win over the Blackhawks at Bridgestone Arena, completing the stunning sweep of the Stanley Cup favorites. Did anyone in Nashville see this coming? Chicago is certainly shocked.
The Blackhawks played through this entire regular season looking the part of a championship favorite. They had youth forced into the lineup, but it meshed well with the championship core. Joel Quenneville, the future Hall of Fame coach, seemed to have his team clicking for the postseason.
Oh, but what about that core? Those stars were nowhere to be seen for most of the series. Toews finally snapped his playoff scoring skid — but not until Game 4 was out of reach. You better believe he’ll be plenty ticked off entering another long offseason. Who was the Blackhawks’ best player in those four games? That’s a sad question to ponder.
The Blackhawks have sworn by their level of experience from three Stanley Cup championships since 2010, the rock on which this team has relied when pressed against the wall. They never responded from that first Predators goal early in Game 1.
Quenneville entered Thursday with a record of 45-15 in Games 4-7 of a series. Through the years, adjustments from the bench boss have made the difference as the Blackhawks take over a series. They couldn’t even push this one to a fifth game.
Everything the Blackhawks had on their side — every reason on paper they could’ve swept the Predators — it all didn’t matter. They were outclassed in an embarrassing sweep. The talent didn’t show up, and even the effort was lacking.
In four games, the Blackhawks scored three goals. Quenneville spoke of creating pressure after the first game, believing his team would be OK with a net-front presence the rest of the series. They then responded to the 1-0 loss in Game 1 by getting pounded 5-0 in Game 2, with both losses coming on home ice.
The Blackhawks were booed as the United Center cleared out after Game 2 on Saturday. There were 8,000 or so fans remaining to provide the chorus of frustration. But conventional wisdom suggested they could at find some spark, some heart, something – anything – to bring the series back to Chicago on Saturday night.
Instead, the team with such a winning pedigree found a way to lose Game 3, then ran into a brick wall in Game 4. Go ahead and tap the stick for Pekka Rinne and the upstart Predators, who never let up in blowing away the Blackhawks. But one must first wonder what happened to the favorites.
So many times before, the Blackhawks have managed to flip that switch and look dominant to a lesser foe. This time, the Predators skated circles around the top seed.
Where do the Blackhawks go from here? General manager Stan Bowman must first start with an assessment of why his previously high-flying team looked so old and slow. He must evaluate why the attack struggled to create chances in front of the net and how the defense faltered again.
Everything must be considered after a tremendous disappointment from an organization that has spoiled its city with success. But don’t be mistaken – the Blackhawks never should’ve looked this bad.