The Chicago Blackhawks are heading to the second round after beating the Nashville Predators, 4-3, in Game 6 on Saturday night. The win clinched a 4-2 series victory for the Hawks, who will now go on to face either the Minnesota Wild or St. Louis Blues in the Western Conference semifinals.
With Game 6 on home ice, the Hawks knew a win would send the Predators home for the season; a loss and a Game 7 loomed large in Nashville. Chicago needed to come out flying, but instead came out flat with an almost exact repeat of the first period of Game 1.
Scott Darling gave up three goals on 12 shots in 11 minutes and 16 seconds before being reaplced in goal by Corey Crawford, who was pulled after giving up three goals on 12 shots in the first period of Game 1. Struggling on the forecheck and unable to clear the defensive zone, the Hawks scrambled and the Predators capitalized with quick goals from James Neal and Matt Cullen.
Marian Hossa visited the penalty box on a hook to stop a Nashville breakaway and put the Hawks on their second penalty kill of the first period. The Hawks also had their chance on the power play in the first and capitalized on a goal by Jonathan Toews, which followed up a Patrick Sharp goal. Getting off the ice down one goal would've been a victory for the Hawks, but they weren't done yet.
With only seconds left in the period Patrick Kane, off a faceoff win from Brad Richards and a nice pass from Duncan Keith, found the back of the net to draw even with the Predators, 3-3, as the period ended. After going down 2-0 and 3-1 in the period, the Blackhawks once again proved that they may be down, but they are never out. The Predators held the first period edge in shots on goal, 14-11, and Keith logged an unbelievable 10:16 of ice time.
The Hawks came out with much greater focus as the second period got underway. More offensive zone presence, more chances, more defense. At 8:55, Brad Richards, infuriated by a tripping call, went to the box sending the Hawks on the penalty kill. Both teams settled in after a frantic first period and defense reigned, though the Hawks had some nice rushes and some good looks that did not get past Pekka Rinne. Toews continued to exhibit his great two-way play and had a couple of good looks, but came up empty.
Keith had the best chance of the period for the Blackhawks with a blistering near miss that deflected off of Rinne's mask. Nashville had very few quality chances during the second period, with all of the shots being easily handled by Crawford. The period ended deadlocked, 3-3, with the Hawks holding a 23-21 edge in shots on goal.
The Predators started the third period with a desperation reserved for teams that are one period removed from going home for the summer and, as in the first period, the Blackhawks looked just a bit behind on their pursuit. Nashville's Victor Bartley headed to the box at 8:57 for a hook on Marcus Kruger, giving the Hawks their first man advantage since the first period. The Hawks were unable to capitalize on the power play and the score remained tied at 3. The pace quickened by both teams as the clock ticked to under eight minutes and the United Center crowd, quiet for most of the period, came to life.
With five minutes left in the third period, the Hawks began to push the pace and the line of Hossa, Saad and Towes led an incredible rush resulting in a blistering slap shot from Keith off a Hossa screen to give the Hawks a 4-3 lead at 16:12 of the third. Nashville went to the empty net with two minutes left in regulation and the race was on. After several empty net misses and a lot of solid defense, the Blackhawks take Game 6 in regulation and await either Minnesota or St. Louis in the second round.
After a forgettable and difficult start to this game, the Blackhawks came together as a team and leaned on their extensive playoff experience to carry them past an opportunistic Nashville team that had matched them in intensity and play during this series.