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Preds get away from successful formula, fall to Hawks…

On Sunday night, we learned two things.

Don’t wait until the third period to start shooting the puck and when in doubt, don’t.

The Chicago Blackhawks evened the best-of-seven series with the Nashville Predators last night with a 2-0 victory at United Center in a game that has Preds fans scratching their heads. Not because Nashville didn’t play well, but because their secret to success in Game 1 wasn’t used in Game 2.

In Game 1, where did their two non-empty net goals come from? Putting the puck on net. The first goal was a partial-dump toward the net that ended up tying the game on a fluky bounce and the second goal was a shot off a rebound while Hawks goalie Antti Niemi was scrambling. Well, on this night, Niemi was barely tested until the third stanza.

The Predators fired only 12 shots on goal through the first two periods. Meanwhile, during that same amount of time, Chicago forced Pekka Rinne to stop 26 of their own.

We’ve said it before with this team, you can’t win unless you shoot. Especially after a text book example the game before of why you just pucks on net, even if it’s as a last resort.

Now, despite all of that, there was a bright spot for the Preds during the second period. The game was scoreless when Dustin Boyd found himself unmolested in front of the Blackhawks crease. He made a move past Niemi, looked up to see a wide open net, took that split second to settle the puck and then shot. Niemi slid across to make what should be remembered as the game-saving stop. His huge right pad shut the door and Boyd was denied the first goal of the game. If that goes in, and Nashville takes the 1-0 lead, chances are the Blackhawk faithful sit back in their seats and say “Oh no” while essentially hitting the panic button. Instead, it stays out and Chicago bags a goal of their own on the power play a little later.

Then the daggar came.

Dan Hamhuis, in one of his worst decisions to date given the opponent, the personnel on the ice and the situation (down 1-0 in a playoff game), pinched trying to keep the puck in. With the stutter step, you could tell that Hamhuis was thinking about dropping back to be safe but, instead, he went ahead and tried to keep the puck in the zone. Patrick Sharp was able to spring Patrick Kane as a result and both he and Sharp left Hamhuis in the dust. It was a 3-on-1 the other way with Kevin Klein being the “1.” Kane froze Klein and put the ever important second goal behind Rinne. The rest of the game was just formality.

Also, when given a power play in the final 2:28 of regulation, Nashville pulled Rinne to make the man-advantage a two-man-advantage. But, with six skaters versus Chicago’s four, the Preds still couldn’t create any time or space and the Blackhawks had little trouble killing it off. Now how does an NHL team have a 6-on-4 power play for a full two minutes yet still not have any space to get set up? That, more than anything, is disgusting and should be the focus of a lot of off-ice conversations between now and Game 3 at Bridgestone Arena on Tuesday night.

All that being said, is the sky falling? Absolutely not. In the past three days, the Predators have managed to win a playoff road game for the first time in their franchise history, they’ve beaten a team that with one more point would’ve been the top team in the West, and they’re even ahead in the series if you consider aggregate scoring.

But, if Nashville is going to perform like this for the rest of the series, they’ll be booking tee times next Saturday night. And that’s the concern for Pred Nation at this hour.

* Patrick Hornqvist, who, if you remember, was only supposed to miss the end of Game 1 with an “equipment issue,” was a late scratch with an upper body injury.
* Boyd played in his first post season game as a member of the Predators.
* Rinne was outstanding once again, stopping every shot that he had half a chance on. Including this amazing save on Marian Hossa.
* After taking only two penalties in Game 1, the Preds took seven penalties on Sunday night, including three in the second period alone.
* Nashville defenseman Ryan Suter led all Preds skaters with six shots on goal.
* Fellow defenseman Francis Bouillon led all Preds skaters with six hits.
* Look for Denis Grebeshkov to join the blueliners in Game 3 for the first time since getting injured on March 7.
* After tallying two goals on four shots and registering a plus-2 rating on Friday, JP Dumont finished with a minus-1 and failed to record a single shot in Game 3.
* Kane has had a hand in every Blackhawks goal through the first two games. He scored Chicago’s only goal in Game 1, then assisted on the first goal and scored the insurance tally in Game 2.
* Despite making 31 mostly tough saves, Rinne was not voted one of the three stars of the game.
* Mark your calendars! Puck drops at a special 8pm start time on Tuesday night at Bridgestone Arena.