After escaping Nashville with a 1-1 split that, let's face it, could easily have been an 0-2 hole, the Blackhawks looked to regain their playoff form on home ice this afternoon. Scott Darling, flawless in net in Nashville, got the start and Antoine Vermette and Andrew Desjardins made their first playoff appearances in Hawks sweaters. A recipe for success? As it turns out, yes.
With a raucous and ready United Center crowd behind them, the Hawks got stronger and stronger as the game went on to top the Preds, 4-2. The fourth line opened the scoring with Dejardins' goal via assists from Marian Hossa and Johnny Oduya at 14:48 of the first period, followed just 30 seconds later by a Mike Ribeiro tally to even the score. Despite the loss of Shea Weber to a lower body injury, Nashville's deep back end continued to impress. Hossa was sent to the box for a hook and the Hawks staged a successful penalty kill as the period wound down with a 1-1 tie. The Hawks, rolling four lines, put together several sustained sequences in the offensive zone that put pressure on Pekka Rinne all afternoon.
The Blackhawks have owned the second period in this series and today was no different. Thirty-six seconds in, Jonathan Toews put the Hawks up 2-1 on a wrist shot with assists from Hossa and Duncan Keith. Again, however, just seconds later, Nashville had an answer with a Mattias Ekholm slap shot that tied the game, 2-2. As in the first two games of the series, the Hawks let up after scoring and gave one right back -- fortunately that would not happen again this afternoon. At 3:38 in the period, Brandon Saad delivered a beautiful unassisted snap shot that would turn out to be the game-winning goal. Chicago went up, 3-2, but wasn't done yet as Toews and Andrew Shaw worked together to assist Brent Seabrook on a blistering slap shot that sailed past Rinne to put the game away. The Hawks showed good pace and intensity with good offensive zone presence and solid defense. Darling also put up a great second period and continued strong in the net with few second chances for the Predators.
The Nashville forecheck lacked its usual punch today without the presence of Weber allowing the Hawks to carry the puck into the offensive zone. This became more and more apparent as the third period wore on and the Predators became more desperate for scoring opportunities. The Hawks showed determined play in the third and remained aggressive on the forecheck and with good defense in the form of net front presence, sticks on the ice and blocks. Despite a dismal power play opportunity in the third, the Hawks maintained their composure and took the win.
The Hawks finished the game with 30 shots on goal, 37 hits, 6 penalty minutes, 34 face off wins and 17 blocked shots. Darling saved 35 of 37 shots.
This was a team victory in Game 3, to be sure, with everyone on the ice contributing in a meaningful way. Now 26-0-0 when leading after two periods, the Hawks need to score early and often if they want to carry Sunday's type of team play into Tuesday's matchup. If they can keep it up, they should have no trouble taking a 3-1 series lead back to Nashville.