Prior to the start of these NHL playoffs, there were no shortage of folks, including yours truly, that predicted a seven game series with seven overtime contests between the Chicago Blackhawks and the Nashville Predators. While that hasn't exactly been the case, the fact that the two sides have played two out of their four games with at least one extra frame comes as absolutely zero surprise to anyone.
In a weird, twisted way, five overtimes probably counts as that "every game an OT" prediction, at least in actual minutes.
Game 4 of the series brought about some fantastic pace, with chances going both ways at a fairly even rate. Both sides ran into some quality goaltending, as well as some bad luck, with a potential for far more goals than those that actually showed up on the scoreboard.
The first that did find the back of the net came off the stick of a Nashville Predator, with Colin Wilson continuing to be an incredible nuisance for the Blackhawks, as he deflected a shot off of a Ryan Ellis shot. The power play on which the goal came was the result of a Bryan Bickell penalty that could've been considered somewhat questionable, as James Neal seemed to go down rather easily. Bickell was in an unfortunate position when he committed the penalty, but the fact that Neal was later called for embellishment in the second period is pretty telling.
Nonetheless, the Blackhawks would have their revenge in equalizing things just a short while later. Michal Rozsival sent a puck toward the net and Antoine Vermette was able to get a stick on it and force a lovely deflection past Pekka Rinne.
The two sides played to a 23-22 Corsi per side, with the Blackhawks maintaining a slight edge in the first. It was close again in the second period, with Nashville taking the advantage at 20-16. The lone goal of the second frame came off the stick of James Neal, because of course it did, as he put an unassisted wrister past Scott Darling for the 2-1 edge.
The third period was perhaps some of the best hockey we've seen from the Blackhawks in this short series to date. They dominated possession for much of the frame, with a 24-7 runaway advantage in Corsi, finishing with a 12-5 shot advantage. That resulted in Brandon Saad putting the equalizer on the board, as he continues his emergence after a quiet first couple of games. The Hawks had a few chances to end it late as they continued to maintain pressure, including a last minute 2-on-1 in which Saad slid the puck to Marian Hossa, who fired it at the net, only to be turned away with a fantastic save from Pekka Rinne.
The first overtime brought about some of that same fantastic pace for each side, with a number of chances either way that could have ended it, including a notable opportunity from Kris Versteeg early in the extra frame. The Hawks continued to hold the edge in shots, but, alas, it was not to be as the two sides went to a second overtime period for the second time in the series.
But even that couldn't bring an end to this one. The Blackhawks had a pair of power play opportunities, but they were unable to cash in on the first and actually lost some of their momentum (to the surprise of virtually no one), while a slashing penalty from Andrew Shaw at the tail end of the period killed any hopes of turning in a power play tally for the winner.
Perhaps predictably, however, the Hawks were able to end this one as quickly as possible. They had a couple of quick chances before regular overtime hero Brent Seabrook pounded one home to put this one, and the rest of the city of Chicago, to bed.
A few observations tonight (many of which came primarily from regulation):
- Michal Rozsival had a really nice game. He built on a solid Game 3 performance in order to turn in what could have been his best performance since...the Nixon Administration? Johnny Oduya had a really nice OT, as long as we're talking about embattled defensemen.
- Pekka Rinne isn't comfortable back there. The Hawks have done their best to take advantage of that, with the broadcast noting that they're attacking high on the blocker side. Still a world class goaltender, of course. Also, I wrote this particular observation before overtime and, uh, he seemed just fine. Too fine, in fact. He was incredible.
- Kris Versteeg, man. He's not hurting the team, but he's bringing literally nothing of value at this point. He had a decent overtime period, though. Perhaps he can build on that moving forward.
- Scott Darling continued to do the thing, especially in overtime. That's an understatement, but I'm probably bitter about Corey Crawford. Might as well keep rolling with Darling, though, at this point.
- Hot take: Andrew Desjardins was the best trade deadline acquisition Stan Bowman made this year.
- The first line is just such an incredible joy to watch, each and every shift.
- Antoine Vermette was utilized more so than he was in Game 3, and was able to put the Hawks on the board with that first goal. He had a solid night overall and one would hope that manages to keep him in the lineup and keeps Daniel Carcillo the hell away from it.
The Blackhawks will head back to Nashville to try and put an end to this series on Thursday night. Over/under on the amount of overtimes set at four.
Randy Holt is a staff writer for Second City Hockey. You can follow him on Twitter @RandallPnkFloyd.