This week, "On the Fly," theScore's NHL roundtable session, is essentially an autopsy of the Chicago Blackhawks, whose season ended Thursday in a most-shocking sweep at the hands of the Nashville Predators. We're asking the important questions: How? Why?
Navin Vaswani: To keep it short and sweet: Pekka Rinne happened.
Dude allowed three goals in four games, stopping 123 of 126 shots he faced in almost 13 periods (.976 percent, if you're into that kind of thing), while posting two clean sheets. That's hockey. That's life.
It was a closely contested series. At 5-on-5, a wash:
|Team||Corsi For||Corsi Against||Corsi For%|
(Data courtesy: Corsica Hockey)
Rinne was better than Corey Crawford, who leaves the playoffs with a nightmare .902 save percentage. Simple. And, truly, while a sweep certainly is surprising, the fact that Nashville won shouldn't be. The Predators are a legit team.
An 82-game sample is always the most reliable, so check out the kind of defense the Predators played since October:
(Image courtesy: Hockey Viz)
Peter Laviolette's squad limited scoring chances from the slot all season, with the opposition only generating chances from the outside and high in the zone. Rinne gets hot, and it makes sense that the series is over in four.
Nashville also played exceptionally disciplined hockey over the past week, taking only nine penalties in four games (the same can be said for Chicago, which took only eight). While the Blackhawks' power play ranked 19th at 18 percent during the season, Chicago puts out its most talented players when it's up a man, and there's some bloody exceptional talent on Joel Quenneville's bench. Two of Chicago's three (!) goals in the series came on the man advantage. Nashville had to stay out of the box, and it did.
Chicago won Cups in 2013 and 2015, and many had the team doing it again in 2017, after the club somewhat quietly dominated - you get used to it, truthfully - and finished atop the Western Conference. But, finally, the puck stopped bouncing the Blackhawks' way. They didn't win a game in April, losing their final four regular-season matches (three by a goal, and two in overtime), and then ran into Rinne.
This happens. It simply hasn't, recently, to the Blackhawks, and that's what makes it so surprising.
Cory Wilkins: The Blackhawks were a re-enactment of "Failure to Launch."
Down 3-0 in the series, Chicago head coach Joel Quenneville noted he would need everyone to contribute if his squad was to make a historic comeback against the Predators. Though, he emphasized it would be up to his club's top players to lead the charge.
They never delivered.
Patrick Kane, Artemi Panarin, Jonathan Toews - the team's top three scorers in the regular season - combined for two goals and three assists, with Toews' lone marker turning out meaningless, as he tallied late in the third period of Game 4 with the Predators already ahead 3-0.
Chicago's other top players were also missing in action through the opening-round series. Veteran winger Marian Hossa put up zero points through four games, as did a host of other key producers like Artem Anisimov and Ryan Hartman. Most shocking? Defenseman Duncan Keith was the Blackhawks' only blue-liner to registered a single point this postseason.
In all, the Blackhawks produced a meager three goals in four games. In the words of Carolina head coach Bill Peters: "Not good enough."
Josh Wegman: Nashville was the hungrier team. Plain and simple. The Preds have seen the Blackhawks flaunt their three Stanley Cup rings since 2010 and dominate the Central Division for years now. Enough, apparently, was enough.
Obviously the Blackhawks still took the ice and tried their best to win, but how desperate can you really be to win when most of your roster already has three Stanley Cup rings? Deep down, Nashville wanted it more. Absolutely nobody gave them a chance in this series. That was certainly bulletin-board material from the get go.
In my eyes, the Preds were an underachieving bunch all season long. They happened to play up to their potential at the right time. All they needed was some extra motivation. They have one of the most mobile defense corps in the NHL, one that was able to mitigate the speed of the Blackhawks. And of course, Rinne played the best hockey of his life.