The Hawks found themselves in a similar situation on Sunday night. After they coughed up a 1-0 lead in Game One, the Hawks were once again put to the test of closing out the game.
Of course, getting to that moment wasn’t as easy as it sounds. They had the lead because of some terrific saves from Antti Niemi early in the second period when the Predators were dictating the flow and some slick work from Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews on the power play.
After a scoreless first period that saw Jonathan Toews hit a crossbar and Dave Bolland denied a goal from a quick whistle, the Predators came into the second as the more aggressive team. They were all over the Hawks in the opening minutes and looked poised to grab the first goal of the game.
Antti Niemi had other ideas. He turned away Colin Wilson on the save of the game when he denied his first shot and then did the splits to turn away his rebound. Another big save saw him diving to his left to turn away a bouncing puck after a scramble in front.
The saves seemed to pick up the Hawk skaters and it wasn’t long after that they capitalized on a Jordin Tootoo penalty that Niemi helped sell to the officials. Tootoo skated by Niemi and made contact with his skate. Niemi reacted as though Tootoo took out his leg with a tire iron and it was all the referee needed to see.
On the ensuing power play, Duncan Keith blasted a point shot wide of the net. Patrick Kane did a magnificent job of controlling the puck after it fired off the boards just a few feet in front of him and found Toews open in front. Toews made a neat blind pass to Bolland and, after corralling the puck on his backhand, he roofed it into the open net.
So with the Hawks entering the third with a 1-0 lead once again, they made sure not to fall into the same trap as Game One. A big reason for that was Patrick Sharp making Dan Hamhuis pay for holding the blue line. On what is becoming a theme in this series, the Nashville defense refuses to give up the blue line to the Hawks and it was no different when the puck found Patrick Sharp at the hashmarks.
This time, Sharp won the board battle and chipped the loose puck past Hamhuis. Patrick Kane came streaking in and picked up the loose puck to lead a 3-on-1 the other way. With Kevin Klein doing the best he could, Kane looked him off and rifled a shot past Pekka Rinne to give the Hawks a crucial 2-0 lead.
The more times the Hawks capitalize on plays like that, the less inclined the Nashville defense will be to pinch in the offensive zone. Needless to say, it was a pretty big goal.
Antti Niemi and some crucial shot blocks from Brent Sopel were enough to hold off the Predators the rest of the way in. On a Nashville power play halfway through the third, Sopel made a few outstanding shot blocks to prevent Niemi from ever having to make a save.
In the final couple minutes of the game and Nashville again on the power play, Niemi made some big saves on scrambles in front of his crease to preserve the shutout and help the Hawks knot up the series at 1 game apiece.
—I’ve given Brent Sopel a compliment and now I’ll dish out some criticism. Well, it’s not really criticisim because without Brian Campbell or Kim Johnsson, the Hawks are really behind the 8-ball in this series and it’s not Sopel’s fault he’s being thrown to the wolves. So far in the series, the Predators are forechecking the hell out of the Hawks defense, sometimes throwing all three forwards below the hashmarks. Defensemen capable of skating with the puck or moving the puck quickly are able to negate forechecks like this.
Or in other words, not Brent Sopel.
Like I said, it’s not his fault, but every time he’s out on the ice, the Predators look like a pride of lions trying to take down a big, ugly gazelle. Sadly, it’s probably only going to get worse when the series switches to Nashville.
There are a few ways to prevent this and none of them are all that great.
- Give more ice time to Dustin Byfuglien while they’re trying to protect a lead.
- Let Brian Campbell play in a sling.
- Rotate three defensemen and bench Jordan Hendry, Dustin Byfuglien, and Sopel for the majority of the third.
Not exactly a bunch of great options. That’s why the Sharp/Kane goal was such a big one. If the Hawks can continue to make Predators defensemen think twice about holding the blue line, that will be a huge step in getting cleaner breakouts.
–While we’re talking about breakouts, the Hawks should thank their lucky stars the NHL changed the rule about faceoffs being moved to the offensive zone following a penalty. If it weren’t for that, they would’ve never gained entry into the Nashville zone while on a man advantage.
The Hawks power play breakout is hardly an international secret. In fact, Pittsburgh, Detroit, and Washington are just three teams that come to mind that do the exact same breakout as the Hawks. Unfortunately, when the Hawks are going through the neutral zone half-speed, it makes Nashville’s job fairly easy. Not to mention, the Hawks continously were coughing up the puck in the neutral zone.
If that continues, it’s only a matter of time before it ends up in the back of their net.
–Here’s hoping Shea Weber keeps playing games like he did tonight. Weber seemed off all night. His low point was in the third period following Kane’s goal and he completely botched a 3-on-2 rush led by Toews and Hossa. Weber was completely twisted around and only Pekka Rinne was able to keep the spotlight off his star defensive teammate. Then later in the period, he took a needless cross-checking penalty with his team chasing two goals.
–The only way to explain Steve Sullivan’s man-raping of Kris Versteeg late in the game was that Versteeg hid last year’s Masterson’s trophy in his pants.
–It took one big hit from Ben Eager early in the first to make J.P. Dumont utterly irrelevant.
*On the Farm*
–The IceHogs lost their first two games against the Texas Stars 2-1 on Friday and 3-1 on Saturday. Rob Klinkhammer scored the lone goal on Friday night and Kyle Beach scored on Saturday. The series shifts to Rockford on Wednesday night.
Freshly signed Frozen Four MVP Ben Smith made his Rockford debut on Saturday night. He was a -1 with a shot on goal.