Rozner: Blackhawks' season on the brink once again

 
 
Updated 4/18/2017 12:43 AM
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  • Chicago Blackhawks goalie Corey Crawford (50) skates to the bench as Nashville Predators players celebrate after Predators left wing Kevin Fiala scored the winning goal during overtime in Game 3 in Nashville, Tenn. The Predators won 3-2 to take a 3-0 lead in the series.

    Chicago Blackhawks goalie Corey Crawford (50) skates to the bench as Nashville Predators players celebrate after Predators left wing Kevin Fiala scored the winning goal during overtime in Game 3 in Nashville, Tenn. The Predators won 3-2 to take a 3-0 lead in the series. Associated Press

Before this series began, Jonathan Toews was bragging about the Chicago Blackhawks' ability to come back from deficits in games or series that would frighten most teams.

"The experience really kicks in when we're in tough spots," Toews said. "We don't hit the panic button. We stay with the plan and when teams see that you don't panic, I think it can be intimidating."

Well, the Predators must really be intimidated now.

Nashville came back from down 2-0 in the third period of Game 3 to tie it, and then won it in overtime early Tuesday morning and the Hawks' season now feels very much over as they face a Game 4 in Nashville on Thursday night.

But, hey, at least the Hawks scored. So, ya know, that's something.

For two games the only intimidation came from Nashville, which was beating the Hawks in every way.

And while there will be much conversation about the Preds' tying goal late in the third period, the reality is Nashville has been the faster, tougher and better team for all three games.

The Preds completely dominated overtime and the entire 16:44 felt like only a matter of time before the home team won the game, took a 3-0 series and put the top seed in the Western Conference on the brink of elimination in the first round for the second straight season.

Not since the 2011 first-round loss to Vancouver have the Hawks lost to a team that played faster and had more skill than the Hawks, so this has been a bit of wake-up call for a team that's made a habit of falling behind in series without fear of being able to make up serious ground.

The Hawks went down 3-0 to the Canucks before winning the next three and then losing in overtime of Game 7 in Vancouver.

That was six years ago and Corey Crawford, Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Marian Hossa, Brent Seabrook, Niklas Hjalmarsson and Duncan Keith were a lot younger then with perhaps more fight in them.

The Hawks did show some fight Monday night, managing to escape the first period tied, which felt like a victory for a team seeking some confidence.

That's odd to consider and even stranger to write about a squad sitting on three Stanley Cups.

Nashville carried the second half of the first period and continued to look like the much better team, but Crawford kept the game scoreless, and then the Hawks finally solved Pekka Rinne.

With Richard Panik skating on the third line, his strong effort resulted in a dive and poke to Marcus Kruger behind the Preds' net, where Kruger dished nicely to Dennis Rasmussen and he shot it past Rinne for the Hawks' first goal of the series 65 seconds into the second period.

After Nashville defenseman Ryan Ellis shot it out of the rink 10 minutes later, Kane scored through traffic on the power play and the Hawks were up 2-0 halfway through the second.

From there, the Hawks seemed to take a deep breath and remember that they're a pretty good hockey team.

They dominated the rest of the middle stanza and, in particular, their defensemen started handling the puck with more certainty than they had the first seven periods of the series.

Their sticks were active and they were consistently denying the Preds good scoring chances, but the forwards were also getting back to help, and that's entirely a function of effort, something the Hawks could not boast after the first two games.

When Nick Schmaltz was denied on a breakaway that would have put the Hawks up 3-0 in the third, there was a feeling that Nashville had been revived.

The Preds had another bounce go their way 4:24 into the third when a shot hit high off the glass behind Crawford and the Hawks stopped playing, thinking the puck had gone into the netting, but the puck bounced right out in front and Filip Forsberg shoveled it in to cut the Hawks' lead to 2-1.

The Hawks had several chances to increase their lead, but having failed to do so, Forsberg scored again with 5:52 left in regulation and the game was tied at 2-2.

Crawford was interfered with on the play, but the coach's challenge was denied, and the goal stood as called on the ice.

There's no question the goaltender was bumped, but he was just outside the blue paint and that's probably why the Hawks didn't get the call.

But the harsh reality is Nashville looks young and fast, while the Hawks look old and slow.

And done for the year.

brozner@dailyherald.com

• Listen to Barry Rozner from 9 a.m. to noon Sundays on the Score's "Hit and Run" show at WSCR 670-AM.

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