4 reasons why the Chicago Blackhawks were swept by Nashville
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Fifty victories. The No. 1 seed in the West.
Eighty-nine points from Patrick Kane; 74 by Artemi Panarin. Seven guys with 19 or more goals.
Plenty went right for the Chicago Blackhawks this season, yet when the rubber met the road, the Hawks skidded out of control and saw their Stanley Cup dreams squashed in an instant by an extremely talented bunch of Nashville Predators.
Before the postseason began, we ran a story about how clutch the Hawks had been all season; that 20 of their 50 victories came in large part because of a tying or winning goal being scored in the final 5.5 minutes or overtime.
In retrospect, that fact should have been more of a red flag than something to boast about.
"Maybe we won a couple close games that might have made us feel like we were better than we really were," Kane said after Thursday's season-ending loss to Nashville.
There were about 100 reasons why the Predators swept the Hawks, but because it took just four games, we'll look at the four biggest ones ...
1. Wrong team, wrong time
What if the Hawks had opened against Calgary? Or a team like Minnesota?
Would we be talking about the second round in a few days? Would the young guys have played better, gained more confidence and used it to help propel the Hawks deeper into the postseason?
Or would it not have mattered one lick?
They are all good questions with no obvious answer, but the fact is the Hawks ran into two tough-as-nails opponents the last two years. The postseason is often about matchups, injuries and getting the right bounces.
Last season against the Blues, it was a tough matchup and the bounces didn't go the Hawks' way. This season, it was more about the matchup.
Nashville was just better in every conceivable way.
Faster. Hungrier. Deeper. Stronger. More resilient. Better coached.
"They were relentless," Jonathan Toews said. "Anytime we seem to start to get things going they found ways to stymie our momentum or our offense."
2. Dimming stars
If Jonathan Toews can't score more than 1 meaningless goal in a playoff series, it's time to wonder if the Hawks' captain isn't starting to become a liability, especially when one considers his $10.5 million salary cap hit.
But it's not just Toews.
Where was Patrick Kane? Or Artemi Panarin and Artem Anisimov? Or Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Johnny Oduya and Brian Campbell?
These supposed big-name performers couldn't win a key faceoff, couldn't get off many high-quality shots and couldn't keep up with just about all of Nashville's young and hungry players.
The Hawks' stars never got going and that's a slam-dunk recipe for disaster.
3. Slower traffic move right
Roller skates vs. jet packs.
At times, that's how it felt watching the Hawks try and keep up with Filip Forsberg, Viktor Arvidsson, Ryan Johansen, Colton Sissons, Kevin Fiala, Ryan Ellis and P.K. Subban.
We lost count of how many times Nashville's players beat the Hawks to a puck and got behind the defense to create prime scoring chances. The Predators also outworked the Hawks for every loose puck and rarely turned it over once they were in control.
4. Anybody home?
The fact that the Blackhawks had nothing to play for at the end of the regular season came back to bite them in a big way. With the top seed wrapped up, they coasted into Game 1 just expecting the "on button" to magically go back on.
It never did.
The Hawks of the past -- like the 2015 title team -- were able to take it easy in the final week or so, but the stars were a bit younger and there were far more playoff veterans such as Patrick Sharp, Brad Richards, Andrew Shaw, Kris Versteeg, Brandon Saad and Antoine Vermette who wouldn't be fazed by any sort of deficit, or by any opponent for that matter.
For as nice a season as some of the young players had, they followed in lock step with Kane, Toews, Keith and Seabrook, and never were a factor against Nashville.
It was nothing short of a total team collapse up and down the lineup.
The most damning evidence that the Hawks were in deep trouble came after their 5-0 loss in Game 2. Expecting to see fuming -- or at least agitated -- players in the locker room, reporters instead found Toews, Kane and Corey Crawford talking like they'd just lost a game in January.
Where was the fire? The passion? The disappointment?
It was nowhere to be found -- just like the Hawks in this series.