by Scott King
If Blackhawks fans could have comprehended what happened Thursday night, they would have toppled over as if they were punched in the gut by a prize fighter twice their size. When they wake up Friday morning, they’ll soon realize it wasn’t a nightmare, the Blackhawks lost game four 4-1 in Nashville and the Predators completed the sweep in the first round of the 2017 Stanley Cup playoffs.
To shed some light on why this particular sweep may be so hard to swallow, it was the first time an eighth seed swept a number one seed in NHL history.
Most experts, including yours truly, had the Hawks winning the series in six games. Hell, that even seemed generous for the Nashville Predators. Nashville was a good team during the regular season, they added P.K. Subban and top center Ryan Johansen, their defense was always active… But the Hawks bested them in the season series 4-1 and got past them and onto Stanley Cup glory in 2010 and 2015.
The truth was this Nashville Predators team is either better than we all thought or played to a higher level than we all thought they would. We knew their defense was active, but we didn’t know how active. And we didn’t know how few mistakes they made.
We didn’t know Johansen was capable of dominating the illustrious Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews for an entire playoff series. Toews had zero playoff goals since the 2015 Stanley Cup Final before being the lone-scorer for the Hawks in Game 4.
Perhaps the deeper truth is we didn’t know how foreign a killer instinct was to this Hawks team. Winning the Central Division and Western Conference, as well as posting a 50-win season are certainly the mark of a great team, but a great team didn’t show up to play against the Nashville Predators this postseason.
The core members, mostly comprised of future hall of famers, all had flashes of greatness during the regular season. Rookies like Ryan Hartman and Nick Schmaltz looked like they could handle themselves in the big league. Hartman even finished the regular season with 19 goals.
Chicago’s second line of Panarin-Anisimov-Kane again looked like one of the league’s best. Kane followed up his 2016 MVP and point-leading honors with a second place tie for 89 points in 2017. But he and his line were largely held off the scoresheet as well. Kane tallied a power-play goal in Game 3 of the series.
When all was said and done, the Preds shutout the Hawks twice in the series and outscored them 13-3.
“We could talk about every single guy, we needed more,” Blackhawks head coach Joel Quenneville told the media following the game.
Toews also weighed in on the highly disappointing early elimination, or at least tried to… “Getting to this point and falling flat on our face as we did … don’t really have any words right now or any explanation.”
As always when the team comes up short, it will be up to Hawks Vice President and General Manager Stan Bowman and co. to come up with the explanation and adjust the roster accordingly for next season.
The Hawks exited in the first round on Thursday night for the second straight time. Last year they made it to a Game 7 vs. the St. Louis Blues.
Preds’ goalie Pekka Rinne had more points than any Hawk heading into Game 4 (2). Patrick Kane was the only Hawks player to finish with as many in the series.
The Hawks hadn’t lost four-in-a-row in the playoffs since the 2002 in the first round vs. St. Louis.
Chicago Hadn’t been swept since 1993 vs. St. Louis, also in the first round.
Keep Your Head Up
The 55th NHL Draft will be at the United Center on June 23-24.
The 10th annual Blackhawks Convention is July 21-23 at the Hilton Chicago.
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