Blackhawks match Predators' pace until third period in 5-2 loss

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Peter Laviolette's Nashville Predators have fought tooth and nail with the Blackhawks in their opening-round playoff series.

They've outshot the Hawks. They scored just as many goals as the Hawks after four games. They've taken the Hawks to double and triple overtime. Yet despite all that, this fact remained: The Predators trailed 3-1 after four games and were facing elimination in Game 5 on Thursday.

“I checked again this morning,” Laviolette said. “It's 3-1. In favor of Chicago. I wish it said something different, but it didn't and that's the bottom line.”

Now the bottom line is that the Blackhawks will need at least six games to move on to the second round as Nashville poured in 3 third-period goals in just two minutes, 27 seconds en route to a 5-2 victory. The goals came from James Neal, Colin Wilson (his fifth of the series) and Filip Forsberg, who had 2 goals in Game 5.

The Hawks now lead the best-of-seven series 3-2 with Game 6 at the United Center on Saturday at 7 p.m.

The Hawks spoke before the game of trying to match Nashville's anticipated frenzied pace, and they accomplished that as the game was tied 1-1 after two periods.

“This team in their building might be the best starting team in the league,” said the Hawks' Kris Versteeg. “They always find a way to come out blazing and find a way to score a goal here or there.

“This building is extremely loud and you can't really hear much, especially in that first period. You can't really communicate. They seem really to feed off that. We're going to have to find ways to take the crowd out of it and weather a storm that's gonna come.”

Brad Richards gave the Hawks a 1-0 lead when he got past Cody Franson and beat Pekka Rinne five-hole. It was Richards' first point of the series. He has now scored in his last eight postseasons.

It took Nashville just 75 seconds on Forsberg's first goal of the game. Hawks goalie Scott Darling, who came into the game with a .969 save percentage in the playoffs, had stopped the previous 35 Nashville shots. Only Ottawa's Craig Anderson (.974) had a better save percentage entering Thursday's action.

Laviolette's Predators haven't been 100 percent healthy, playing without stud defenseman Shea Weber for Games 3-5 and center Mike Fisher for Games 1-4. They've given the Hawks all they can handle, but morale victories don't mean squat in pro sports.

“You can't get to the second round by playing well,” Laviolette said. “You've got to win hockey games. Whether you're playing well or you're not playing well, there's always things you can do better. … I think everybody knows we need to win a hockey game. The players certainly do.

“It doesn't change from Game 4 to Game 5 – our intention was the same last game, it'll be the same this time. But if we can fix small things and be a little better in one area, maybe that's enough to push the game the other way.”

The ramifications of the Hawks finishing off the Predators in five games would have big because St. Louis and Minnesota are locked at 2-2 in their series, and the Hawks would play the winner in the next round.

“You never want to play an extra shift, an extra game in the playoffs if you can avoid it,” said Hawks coach Joel Quenneville.

• Follow John's Hawks reports on Twitter @johndietzdh.

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Images: Blackhawks fall to Predators in game five, 5-2

3 stars of the game

1. Nashville's Filip Forsberg. Scored twice, first erasing early 1-0 Hawks lead, then making it a 4-1 game early in the third period.

2. Nashville's James Neal. Wrapped game-winner in past an out-of-position Scott Darling. Also added an assist.

3. Nashville's Pekka Rinne. Finally stepped up and gave Preds the effort they need to beat Hawks, stopping xx of xx shots.

— John Dietz

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