The Blackhawks entered Saturday’s matinee tied with the Predators at 39 points for the final playoff spot in the Central Division, and it was obvious from the start that the Blackhawks intended to fight for their spot. Unfortunately, despite having one of their best games of the season, the Blackhawks fell to the Predators 3-0 and now trail the team from Nashville in the standings with just under a third of the season left.
Despite the Blackhawks controlling pace to start the first period, the Predators struck first. Nikita Zadorov took his sixth penalty in the last seven games, and rookie sensation Eeli Tolvanen scored off a slapshot on the power play to put the Predators up 1-0.
Eeli Tolvanen can freakin shoot it pic.twitter.com/BkW20WGbq6— Dimitri Filipovic (@DimFilipovic) April 3, 2021
The Blackhawks had more offensive zone time in this first period than in their last several games. Juuse Saros kept the Blackhawks off the board, including the sequence below when he first robbed Dylan Strome and then Pius Suter.
The first period ended more low-event than it started, as the Predators went into prevent mode. Boring, but effective and unfortunately foreshadowing for the rest of the game.
The Blackhawks must have eaten their Wheaties last night because they started the second period strong as well. But rinse and repeat, the Blackhawks still found themselves down 2-0 midway through the middle frame.
Patrick Kane turned the puck over on the power play and Adam Boqvist hooked a streaking Colton Sissons, who was awarded a penalty shot and scored a shorthanded goal to extend the Predators’ lead.
A few minutes later, Kirby Dach and Viktor Arvidsson collided in a weird play that left Dach shaken but unhurt while Arvidsson needed help off the ice. The Predators winger would not return to the game, but hopefully that was just precautionary.
The second period ended like the first, with the Blackhawks trailing despite playing much improved at 5-on-5. The Blackhawks got their chances, but they couldn’t solve Saros, who deflected every chance thrown at him.
Less than five minutes into the third period, Boqvist drew two penalties in five seconds to give the Blackhawks a 5-on-3 power play for 1:55. Bafflingly, the Blackhawks generated only two shots on goal in that span despite the Predators being a bottom-10 team in shots against per 60 on the penalty kill.
The pain didn’t stop there as the Predators scored an absolute dagger to make it 3-0 with 10 minutes to play in the third period. Luke Kunin scored from the slot after a rebound from Jeremy Davies’ shot bounced right to Kunin.
NHL Video Highlight - Luke Kunin scores against the Chicago Blackhawks to make it 0-3. pic.twitter.com/stkudxrKVK— Chicago Blackhawks Game Bot (@BHawksGameBot) April 3, 2021
The Blackhawks kept fighting until the end, mustering another seven shots on goal in the back half of the period, but it wasn’t enough and they fell to the Predators 3-0.
- The slow starts for the Blackhawks have been their biggest issue of late, so it was nice to see that trend reverse in terms of 5-on-5 play on the ice this game. Yes, they got down 1-0 early, but they had outshot the Predators 11-2 at that point. The Blackhawks finished the first period with an 82.46 percent share of the expected goals.
- The Blackhawks weren’t just good at 5-ono-5 in the first period, too. They finished the game with 69.81 percent of the shot share, 61.36 percent of the scoring-chance share, and 72.91 percent of the expected goals share. It was their best statistical game of the season.
- This was the first time the Blackhawks were shut out even though they racked up a total of 4.05 expected goals. The Force just wasn’t with them this game, but it’s impressive it took this long for the the Blackhawks to put up a goose egg in the goals column.
- The power-play regression was always expected, but it has really plummeted in recent games, scoring just once in 14 opportunities over their last five games. This includes 1:55 of 5-on-3 time on Saturday. Not ideal.
- Kane had maybe his worst individual game of the season. Credit the Predators for shutting him down — they rotated their checking and top lines against him as well as their shutdown defensive pair — but only one shot from Kane in all situations isn’t good regardless of the other team and his errant giveaways were often major. Blaming the stars when a team isn’t winning is usually silly, but it also shows how dependent the Blackhawks have been on Kane this season.
- Conversely, DeBrincat, Dach, Strome, and Hagel all had very good games. DeBrincat and Dach weren’t as covered thanks to the Predators’ focus on Kane, but they each made the most of that openness with 5 and 4 shots respectfully. Strome had the highest individual expected goal for thanks to his four high-danger chances. Hagel was lower in chances but had the best transition games among forwards.
- There’s been a lot of attention on Philipp Kurashev’s playing time, so most should be happy to see that he had 14:33 of ice time after being promoted to the second line. He had only one shot attempt in that ice time, but he assisted on three of Hagel’s four shots.
- Ultimately, while it’s disappointing the Blackhawks didn’t win despite playing well at 5-on-5 and the mental mistakes are still costing them, they fought hard the entire game and never felt out of it. Can’t fault the effort, anyway.
- The Predators just seem to have the Blackhawks number at this point, but the Blackhawks will have three more chances to crack them this month. With 17 games left in the season for the Blackhawks, the race for the playoffs is far from over.
- Juuse Saros (NSH) — 41 saves on 41 shots
- Colton Sissons (NSH) — 1 penalty shot goal
- Eeli Tolvanen (NSH) — 1 goal
The Blackhawks face the Stars on Tuesday night at the United Center for a 7 p.m. start.