sports 2 days ago

Blackhawks eliminated by Predators in 4-1 loss, swept out of NHL playoffs

Chicago Tribune — By Chris Hine Chicago Tribune

April 20-- NASHVILLE, Tenn.-If the Blackhawks don't win the Stanley Cup, their recent seasons typically have come to an end with heartbreak, not resignation-and certainly not with a whimper.

If the season doesn't conclude in a parade, the final image usually comes with a crushing goal-like Alec Martinez winning Game 7 in overtime for the Kings in 2014.

Or it comes in the form of a former Hawk, Troy Brouwer, dashing another Cup run last season with a go-ahead goal in the third period of a Game 7.

When the Hawks lose, it comes down to a bit of puck luck or they fall to a team that was on their level and just happened to get that fourth victory before they did.

It doesn't come like their 4-1 loss to the Predators on Thursday night at Bridgestone Arena, when one team skates circles around them, and chases them off pucks and out of the playoffs with a sweep.

The Hawks, the Western Conference's top seed, were supposed to have enough pride and enough fight at least to get deep in a series, to ramp up the drama that would increase the hurt of the fall, not to soften it by making it all seem inevitable.

But instead the Predators swept the Hawks out of the Stanley Cup playoffs in four games for the first time since 1993.

Roman Josi (twice) and Colton Sissons provided the final blows that knocked the Hawks into an offseason that will feel different than most of recent vintage. The Hawks will have plenty of time to live with the fact they weren't close or unlucky. They just weren't good enough.

Maybe the wear and tear of the last decade was showing, especially among their veteran defensemen who couldn't keep up with the Predators, who lived up to their nickname. They sensed the Hawks were vulnerable and they attacked, relentlessly. Pekka Rinne, who made 30 saves in the finale, virtually shut them down the whole series.

Now, the questions begin after a second consecutive first-round exit. Do the Hawks need a radical re-tooling to keep competing or do they keep tweaking and rely on some of the young players who appeared overmatched in this series to mature?

The Hawks looked like a team in need of serious help after scoring just three goals in four games.

As a sign of the Hawks' desperation entering Thursday, coach Joel Quenneville did something he rarely does in dressing 11 forwards and seven defensemen.

The Hawks also tried deploying a psychological tactic on the Predators by saying their opponent should feel all the pressure. It didn't work.

The Predators played like the dominant team as they did all series-fast and frustrating the Hawks any time the Hawks tried to enter their zone.

Corey Crawford got the Hawks out of the first period with some strong saves, but he couldn't keep the miracle coming.

The Predators got to him 9 minutes, 41 seconds into the second period when Josi's slap shot from beyond the right circle trickled through Crawford's pads and into the Hawks net.

Then with the Hawks pressing for the tying goal in the third, Sissons hit the post on a rush chance and the puck got stuck in Crawford's pads. When it dislodged, it slid in the net at 8:52. Josi would get the celebration started on the Broadway strip in Nashville with his second goal of the night at 10:21 and Viktor Arvidsson wrapped up the scoring with an empty-netter in the final minutes.

Jonathan Toews scored the Hawks' only goal-and his first since the 2015 playoffs-at the 14:42 mark of the third period, but he was too late to the party. The Hawks could have used that a little earlier in the series.

Instead, they are headed home, and not in their accustomed fashion.

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