After blanking one of the best teams in the league on their home ice to open the playoffs, the Predators knew Game 2 would present an even greater challenge.
The expectation was the Blackhawks, who have won three Stanley Cups since 2010, would push back like they’ve consistently done over the last decade during those deep spring runs.
But it was the Predators who brought a much better effort Saturday night, stunning an entire city with a 5-0 victory to take a commanding 2-0 series lead back to Nashville.
To some degree, it even surprised them.
“I don’t think I would have planned for that,” coach Peter Laviolette said after the game about picking up a pair of shutouts in the first two games. “They are a good hockey team, they are kind of the benchmark. … You know what they’re capable of, the core remains the same, they are well-coached. That was not the game plan coming in here.”
The Predators became the fifth team in NHL history to begin a playoff campaign with consecutive road shutouts, joining the 1936 Detroit Red Wings, 1983 Buffalo Sabres, 1995 New Jersey Devils and 2001 Toronto Maple Leafs, according to the NHL’s PR staff.
It was also the first time the Blackhawks have lost consecutive home playoff games since 2002 against the St. Louis Blues, per CSN’s stat guru Chris Kamka.
The Blackhawks have seemingly been through it all, including the highs and the lows. But they’ve never lost two straight home games to open a playoff series under Joel Quenneville, sending them into oblivion, a state you almost never see them in.
“That was frustration to a different level,” Quenneville said. “That wasn’t fun to watch. We dug ourselves a tremendous hole. Across the board, not too many positives came out of tonight’s game. Everybody was responsible, from the coaches down to every single player. We need to get out of this mess and hole. We can play much better than that in all areas, in all aspects. We’re a better hockey team than we showed tonight.”
Give credit to the Predators.
For the second straight game, they jumped on the Blackhawks early and stayed aggressive throughout the game. They continued to play their style, limited the high percentage shots allowed, and got better as the game went on.
Pekka Rinne pitched his third career playoff shutout — second this postseason — with a 30-save performance, and has stopped all 59 shots he’s seen this series. He also added two assists in Game 2, which is two more points than the entire Blackhawks roster through two games this series.
Four Predators players (Ryan Ellis, Harry Zolnierczyk, Colton Sissons and Kevan Fiala) scored their first career postseason goals in the victory, showing how valuable a four-line rotation is at this time of year.
“Yeah, that’s the coaches mindset right now,” Zolnierczyk said. “To stick with that team is to have four lines that can play. He can kind of roll four lines, regardless of who they put on the ice. We’re comfortable enough facing whoever they have out there. Obviously the playoffs are a long haul, and to have four lines I think will be beneficial down the line.”
The Predators have been in this position before, though, and know the job is far from over. They stole two road victories in Anaheim last year in the first round, but the Ducks fought back by pushing it to seven games before Nashville completed the series.
“I think we can learn a lot from what happened last year against Anaheim,” Ellis said. “We need to keep on the gas, because this team’s not going to go away. They’ve proven time and again that they’re a championship team for a reason, and we have to keep on the gas.”
The Blackhawks became a perennial Stanley Cup contender by how they’ve finished series’ not necessarily by how they’ve started.
With Saturday’s loss, they slipped to 44-42 in Games 1-4 under Quenneville. But in Games 5-7? They’re 32-8, proving just how difficult they will be to put away.
“Any time you’re playing the Chicago Blackhawks and you have an opportunity to be up 2-0 in the series, you’ll take that obviously,” Zolnierczyk. “But there’s a lot of work to be done here still. We’re gonna have to head back to Nashville and prepare for Game 3.”