James O'Brien

Nashville Predators at Chicago Blackhawks

Keith conquers: Blackhawks come back, eliminate Predators

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The Nashville Predators aren’t a common playoff threat for the Chicago Blackhawks, so in some ways, this blistering first-round series feels different. Even so, the usual suspects keep coming up big for the Blackhawks, so the script ended up being familiar enough.

Brent Seabrook scored the game-winner in that epic triple-OT contest in Game 4. Duncan Keith was the difference-maker not once, but twice. Patrick Kane was shockingly productive in this series even short of 100 percent; Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa were their usual dominant selves.

It almost felt inevitable when Keith scored the last game-winner, as close as this series was:

With plenty of overtime action in this series, Predators – Blackhawks felt like a seven-game classic. Chicago was able to make enough plays to end it in six, however, beating Nashville in another thriller by a score of 4-3.

Things were wild and woolly in the opening frame. James Neal scored two early goals, and after the teams traded tallies for a 3-1 Nashville lead, Joel Quenneville gave Scott Darling the hook in favor of Corey Crawford.

It wasn’t advantage: Predators for very long, however. Jonathan Toews scored on the power play and Patrick Kane fired a laser beam home late in the first to tie it up 3-3.

There was plenty of action after that, but Chicago was unable to take advantage of a significant advantage in play in the second period, including a 12-7 shot advantage. In general, it seemed like the Blackhawks were locking in to try to put away the Predators, yet both Crawford and Pekka Rinne held strong through much of the action, making for more tight proceedings.

Ultimately, Rinne was unable to turn aside an unrelenting Blackhawks attack culminating with Keith’s game-winner.

With that, the Blackhawks advance to the next round while the Predators’ surprisingly excellent season ends in heartbreak.

Time will tell if Nashville can bounce back and turn this one-off series into a budding rivalry. Whatever happens in 2015-16 and beyond, this was one of those rare gems that may very well convert new fans to the sport.

… Even if the ultimate outcome might seem predictable to some.

Stamkos on slump: ‘Nothing is going right’

Detroit Red Wings v Tampa Bay Lightning - Game Five
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The Tampa Bay Lightning find themselves on the brink of elimination after a teeth-gnashing 4-0 loss to the Detroit Red Wings in Game 5, and their captain has appeared helpless to change things at times.

Steven Stamkos is easily one of the deadliest snipers in the NHL, yet in five contests, he has zero goals (and two assists) despite a healthy 17 shots on net. He also has six missed shots, so it’s not as if Stamkos is suddenly becoming afraid to pull the trigger.

The high-scoring forward sounded dejected after Game 5, but not necessarily dismissive of his efforts, as the Tampa Bay Times reports.

“Nothing is going right right now,” Stamkos said. “As long as I continue to compete, hopefully they change. It sucks to be going through something like this at this time of year when your team needs you. Hopefully I can come through.”

Some might say that this moment captures the frustration the 25-year-old has been feeling lately:

The effort is there, but playoff hockey is a results-oriented business, so Stamkos might be facing some serious heat if he can’t start to turn things around with the Lightning’s season on the line in Game 6.

Video: Patrick Kane ties it with a ridiculous shot

Nashville Predators v Chicago Blackhawks - Game Three
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When you have Patrick Kane – even in a possibly hampered form – deficits aren’t quite as scary.

The Chicago Blackhawks faced down a 3-1 gap when the Nashville Predators chased Scott Darling, but they enter the first intermission tied 3-3. The bigger-picture answer to “How?” is that it’s been a wild, wide-open game … but sometimes there’s only so much use in explaining things when you have Kane on your team.

A player with a recently injured shoulder/clavicle shouldn’t be able to shoot a laser like this one. Actually, few forwards could unleash a shot like this, period:

Wow.

Red Wings smother Lightning, take 3-2 series lead

Detroit Red Wings v Tampa Bay Lightning - Game Five
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If you want to sum up the Detroit Red Wings’ defensive clinic of a 4-0 Game 5 win against the Tampa Bay Lightning, it’s probably easiest just to note that the Bolts suffered through a period’s worth of game time without a single shot on goal.

The Red Wings simply bottled up the Lightning’s attack, frustrating the likes of Steven Stamkos and Tyler Johnson along the way. Some wonder if officiating only made things worse for scorers:

Others chalk it all up to playoff hockey.

Many will wonder about Stamkos’ struggles, whether there’s been some obstruction happening or not.

Mike Babcock and his Detroit Red Wings might just call it a veteran team playing skin-tight, frustrating defense. With a 3-2 series lead and Game 6 coming up it Detroit, an up-and-down Red Wings squad has a chance to upset a strong (if young) Lightning team.

Of course, plenty of credit must go to Petr Mrazek, who now has two shutouts in his past three playoff games. Babcock showed some courage in sticking with Mrazek after a tough defeat in this series, and that’s looking like a wise choice so far.

Much like in Game 5, Tampa Bay put together a decent comeback effort in the third period, but the Bolts didn’t get the same breaks this time around. Now the upstart team finds its backs against the wall, facing the prospect of going 0-for-2 in playoff series under otherwise-quite-successful head coach Jon Cooper.

Neal, Predators chase Darling in little time

Nashville Predators v Chicago Blackhawks - Game Four
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Are the Nashville Predators starting to get to Scott Darling? Could it be that James Neal has the young Chicago Blackhawks netminder’s number?

It might be a little early to ask such a question, but the bottom line is that the power forward has given the Predators a nice lead so far in Game 6.

The prettiest tally was his first, as he beat Darling with a simple (but nice) move just 1:10 into the contest:

Not long after, Neal deflected a shot in for a power-play goal to make it 2-0 quite early in the game.

Getting a 2-0 lead is very nice for Nashville, but a litany of opponents would tell the Predators not to get too comfortable against the dangerous Blackhawks attack.

Still, it’s certainly a positive development for the Preds, and one can only wonder how long the leash is for Darling.

Update: It turns out that the leash is fairly short for Darling. Patrick Sharp made it 2-1, but moments later, Matt Cullen scored a 3-1 goal. Corey Crawford was summed back into the Chicago net less than 12 minutes into the first period … and that’s that.

For now?