The last time the Blackhawks faced off against the Predators in Nashville on February 24th, they took a 3-1 lead into the third period following a dominating second period. When the dust settled after the third, the Predators scored 4 unanswered goals and gave the ‘Hawks their toughest loss of the season.
Tonight, the ‘Hawks took a 3-1 lead into the third following a dominating second period. When Jason Arnott scored with 16 and a half minutes left in the game, it was deja vu all over again. All the momentum the ‘Hawks built up in the second frame was gone in the blink of an eye.
This time, though, the ‘Hawks and Nikolai Khabibulin had an answer for everything the Predators tried and got an incredibly fortuitious bounce with a minute left.
With an empty net and the top line of Arnott, Sullivan, and Dumont matched up against Havlat, Toews, and Kane with Walker and Barker, the Predators had the match they were looking for.
When the puck went behind the net, Toews and Barker were battling with their assignments. Once the puck switched sides, Matt Walker abandoned his post and left the man in front all alone. To the surprise of no one, the puck came right in front to the extra attacker, Vernon Fiddler. Right before it got on his stick, the puck hopped right over it and on to Kane’s stick. He was off to the races and fed it to Martin Havlat who deposited the puck into the empty net to give the ‘Hawks their 99th point.
Fiddler opened up the scoring tonight when he skated out of the corner with the puck on the power play. Ham Sandwich overcommitted to the high man and left Fiddler all alone. Walker was standing in front of the net trying to tie up his man. After taking the puck hard towards the net, Fiddler fired the puck right off Walker’s skate and into the net.
Following the intermission, it took all of 12 seconds for Jonathan Toews to tie the score. After picking up the puck in the neutral zone, Toews took advantage of a dumb defensive play by Dan Hamhuis. With a ton of open ice, Hamhuis declined to pressue Toews, and instead chose to pick up Patrick Kane on the other side of the ice, forcing his defensive partner to come all the way across to defend the rush. Toews took full advantage of the room and lasered a shot right past Pekka Rinne’s blocker.
40 seconds later, Dustin Byfuglien banged home an Andrew Ladd rebound and just like that, the ‘Hawks turned a 1-0 deficit into a 2-1 lead. Another terrible Nashville defensive giveaway found Patrick Kane on his backhand from 15 feet out. Kane fired a backhand right under Rinne’s arm and the ‘Hawks were in the same spot they were on February 24th when the second period ended (Coincidentally, Kane also scored the ‘Hawks third goal that night).
With the win, the ‘Hawks have all but sewn the number 4 seed and home-ice advantage for the playoffs. (Cue the release of doves and harps playing) Much of that could be thanks to the beleaguered Dustin Byfuglien. Byfuglien played like someone dropped a family of scorpions into his jock strap. He was hitting everything in sight and seemed to control the puck every time it went into the corner. How he wasn’t one of the three stars is beyond me.
Someone who didn’t play well tonight, Matt Walker. Other than the aforementioned two bonehead plays, he made another when Radek Bonk poked a loose puck past him and proceeded to rocket a shot off the post. This is why +/- can be such a misleading statistic. Walker was a +2 on the night and was without question, the worst player on the ice with an Indian head sweater. It’s bodering on insanity how he keeps getting important minutes down the stretch.
Don’t tell that to the play-by-play duo, though. Foley and Edzo spent an inordinate amount of time praising Walker’s every move. They claimed his toughness and physicality is something the ‘Hawks need on a nightly basis.
Ok, this whole toughness argument, it’s nonsense and here’s why: 99% of NHL players are tough. It’s not this rare quality that only one man can provide on the team. And as for his physicality, how does shoving someone in the back after they just put the puck in net give them second thoughts about coming back there?
One of the biggest factors of the upcoming playoff series will be if Q insists on giving Walker important minutes. If it does, the ‘Hawks will be out as quick as they were in.