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Blackhawks vs. Predators, 2017 NHL playoffs: Game 3 preview and how to watch

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The Blackhawks look to avoid the dreaded 3-0 hole in Nashville.

NHL: Stanley Cup Playoffs-Nashville Predators at Chicago Blackhawks Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

There’s a ton on the line as the Chicago Blackhawks take on the Nashville Predators in Game 3 of their first-round series Monday night. The Predators lead the series, 2-0, and will put the Blackhawks on the ropes with another victory. If the Hawks cannot win Monday, there’s a good chance their season is over.

The game is set for 8:30 p.m. CT with a national broadcast on CNBC and a local broadcast on CSN Chicago. NBC Sports also has the live stream if you’re looking to tune in online.

Teams have come back from 3-0 deficits in the past, but there’s not going to be a ton of hope if this team falls behind like that. The Predators dominated Game 2 at the United Center with a 5-0 win, and if the next one looks anything like that, it’ll be difficult to envision how the Blackhawks could possibly win four straight. Nashville isn’t screwing around.

So Game 3 is, in all but the most literal sense, a must-win game for the Blackhawks. Don’t be surprised if there are some changes to the personnel and strategy, although Joel Quenneville already confirmed that it will be Corey Crawford’s net once again. He hasn’t been great so far, but it’s no surprise as he’s far from the biggest culprit in the team’s struggles.

This one isn’t for all the marbles, but it’s for so many marbles that the fun is probably over if it’s not a winner. The Blackhawks seem to know that based on their public comments since the Game 2 beatdown, and hopefully they’ll come out with the proper effort to live up to the situation.

This series takes on a much different tenor if the Blackhawks can win Monday. It’s time to see just what this team is made of.

Three things to watch for

Line changes

There’s a good chance the Blackhawks change something before Game 3. Maybe they bench one of the veteran defensemen, Johnny Oduya or Brian Campbell, to give Michal Kempny a shot on the left side. Maybe they bump Richard Panik and go back to Marian Hossa as the right wing with Jonathan Toews, which we saw briefly in Game 2.

A reliance on the status quo seems unlikely, though, even if we already know Scott Darling will not be swooping in to try to save the day. Based on the forward lines at practice on Sunday, there won’t be any major changes there, but one on defense seems possible, if not probable.

It’s time to dig deep

And I mean this in two ways. Yes, it’s time for the Blackhawks to dig deep into their vast reservoir of badassness and find that next gear. It’s time to “flip the switch,” as the kids say.

It’s also time to figure out ways to get the puck deeper into the Predators’ defense. There’s have been way too many sloppy passes, lazy sticks, and lost puck battles, which has led to the Hawks being content keeping things on the perimeter. The Predators are using their toughness to force things to the outside and above the goal line, and it’s totally stifling the Blackhawks’ offense.

They need to get pucks deeper into the zone, and force the Predators’ defense to bend its shape to handle that. The neutral zone trap is taking away a lot of those big transitional opportunities they depend on, but they can still build upon the good zone entries by pushing further in and trying to create more from down low.

Where my stars at?!

Jonathan Toews hasn’t scored a playoff goal in 11 games. Patrick Kane has two in his last 16. It’s just not cutting it for the two highest-paid players in the NHL. The Blackhawks ride or die with their superstars. Right now, they’re dying, and the only prescription is more cowbell to score some dang goals.

Yes, there’s a chunk of the fan base that doesn’t love criticizing the Blackhawks’ best players after everything they’ve accomplished. There’s also a steadfast belief that, eventually, they’ll do the thing.

But Toews and Kane have combined for two goals over their past 27 combined appearances in the playoffs. You won’t need to look much further than that for explanations if the Hawks get knocked out in the first round for the second consecutive year.

Projected lines for Game 4

Position Blackhawks Predators
Position Blackhawks Predators
F1 Schmaltz-Toews-Hossa Forsberg-Johansen-Arvidsson
F2 Panarin-Anisimov-Kane Zolnierczyk-Fisher-Watson
F3 Rasmussen-Kruger-Panik Fiala-Jarnkrok-Neal
F4 Hartman-Kero-Tootoo Aberg-Sissons-Smith
D1 Keith-Hjalmarsson Josi-Ellis
D2 Campbell-Seabrook Ekholm-Subban
D3 Kempny-TVR Irwin-Bitetto
Goaltender Corey Crawford Pekka Rinne

How to watch Game 3

Time: 8:30 p.m. CT
TV: CSN Chicago, CNBC
Live Stream: NBC Sports